Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Sitcom salvation? Not so much.

Today's column reviews tomorrow night's premiere of Fox's "Back To You":
"Back To You" has been hailed as the savior of the traditional sitcom. Unfortunately, what it mostly does is remind you why the format needs saving.

Not that it's an awful show, by any means -- especially compared to some upcoming alleged comedy product like ABC's "Cavemen." Stars Kelsey Grammer and Patricia Heaton still know how to deliver a good punchline -- and on occasion, their writers give them one. It's a perfectly amiable show, the sort that might have been a hit during the Great Sitcom Glut of the mid-'90s.

But that same Glut -- the period that gave us Grammer's "Frasier" and Heaton's "Everybody Loves Raymond" but also "Jesse," "Suddenly Susan," "Veronica's Closet," "Caroline in the City" and many more unstoppably mediocre half-hours -- so thoroughly built up the audience's tolerance for the setup-joke, setup-joke language of the traditional laughtrack sitcom that only the great ones are bearable anymore. (See the continued success of "Raymond" and "Seinfeld" on cable and in syndication versus the continued failure of almost every new network sitcom.) And "Back To You" is much closer to hackiness than greatness.
To read the full thing, click here.

14 comments:

Matt said...

I will again exhibit my stunning psychic ability (here, made easier, because I believe it was disclosed in early promo materials):

Heaton and Grammer used to have a love/hate romantic relationship, which either is rekindled or has the possibility of being rekindled.

Potential corollary:

Heaton's character's son is also Grammer's son.

Alan Sepinwall said...

I can neither confirm nor deny your suspicions until end of business tomorrow night, but if the secret isn't that, it's something equally predictable.

Lindy said...

Fox has already shown us clips of Grammer and Heaton discussing their one-night stand as promos for "Back to You." Please tell me that wasn't the big secret! Not that I intend to watch the show, but the inanity of swearing critics to silence about something they've been airing for weeks is kind of mind-boggling.

Matt said...

The Times also spoils the same thing, though not in a review, but in a news story about the Emmys.

(Note I had not read the Times before my posting, since I have not substantively slept or been home in over 24 hours. I'd like to thank the Academy for that.)

Alan Sepinwall said...

The big secret is not that they had sex, by the way. That much I can confirm. I mean, they did have sex, but the big secret is something else.

Anonymous said...

Alan, I'll neither confirm nor deny Matt's speculation either, but this is the second day in a row you've allowed this sort of potential spoiler about a show that hasn't aired. Does your "don't predict key plot twists that haven't happened yet" policy only apply to shows you like? (I didn't like this or K-Ville either, but it seems like a bad precedent is being set.)

Alan Sepinwall said...

If people don't know, they can guess. That's always been the case. I remember a reader one time (I think it was Devin) completely nailing the solution to a Veronica Mars mystery arc with no advance knowledge.

I'm debating whether to do a post about the Friday Night Lights premiere (which I watched last night), because I can't discuss anything spoiler-y and yet all the post would do would be lead to speculation.

Anonymous said...

I'm still not confirming or denying Matt's guess in this specific case, but in general I'd argue there's a big difference when advance screeners exist. I could've posted my "guess" here, without you knowing that I'd already watched the episode and figured out a roundabout way to spoil it.

Obviously, it's your blog to run as you see fit, but it seems like this would be a tough thing to police.

Todd said...

Alan, can you just say whether or not the FNL premiere is good or not, to alleviate my fears about network tinkering?

Michael Sterling said...

So is Patricia Heaton's son going to be played by a digitally un-aged Kelsey Grammer (a la X-Men 3)? Or how about David Hyde Pierce, on his knees?

Anonymous said...

It's hard to believe that so many talented people, from the show's creators, cast, and the master director Jim Burrows, could come together and produce something that, from Alan's account and nearly every other critic's, sounds so incredibly pedestrian and trashy. (As do the clips shown in the ads). I'll watch an episode or two just out of interest in all the talent involved, but I can't imagine I'll stay with it beyond that. The TV world is too crowded with high quality stuff these days to bother with something so predictable and unfunny.

DonBoy said...

Hey -- you figured out how to add dates to the comments! Great! Now I know that nobody else cared enough to comment after the broadcast.

I'm sorry that the one kernel of emotion in this thing is surrounded by so much crap. I can't complain about Grammer seeing the kid, because I'm a sucker. But the rest? I felt terribly embarrassed for Ayda Field as I stared and stared and stared -- anyway, plus we have Miles Silverberg But He's Fat, two Bitter Employees Who Got Passed Over (if we count Heaton's character's general resentment), and Jerry Hubbard.

And, unfortunately, my reaction to Grammer's last line -- "She's spectacular" -- was to flash back to Terri Hatcher on Seinfeld.

Alan Sepinwall said...

DonBoy, they're not commenting here because I set up a post-premiere thread to talk about it, Gossip Girl and Kid Nation here.

DonBoy said...

Oops...missed that.