Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Pilot Watch 2007: Fox comedies

Because Fox has so many new shows, I'm splitting them up into gendre. The three sitcoms right now, the dramas to follow at some point.

Usual disclaimer applies: these are not reviews, just initial impressions. Too many things can and will change between now and September to make any kind of final judgments on any of these shows at this early stage.

"Back to You"
Who's in it: Kelsey Grammer, Patricia Heaton, Fred Willard and that one guy from "Out of Practice" who wasn't a showkiller
What it's about: A successful anchorman loses his job for an on-air flub and has to return to his old gig in Pittsburgh, where the female partner he left behind a decade earlier resents his return.
Pluses: Grammer, Heaton and Willard (as a sexist sportscaster) are all comedy veterans who know their way around a punchline.
Minuses: The punchlines aren't very good. I wrote about "'Til Death" last year that Brad Garrett was able to sell some lousy jokes, and either he's a better salesman than Frasier and his ex-sister-in-law, or the jokes are even lousier here. I laughed a handful of times, but I cringed far more often.

"The Return of Jezebel James"
Who's in it: Parker Posey, Lauren Ambrose and Scott Cohen
What it's about: Long-estranged sisters -- one a Type-A book editor unable to conceive, the other a slovenly 20something -- reunite when the older one asks the younger one to carry her baby.
Pluses: Posey and Ambrose have great chemistry, and the pilot picks up significantly when the two of them get to work together.
Minuses: Amy Sherman-Palladino's writing does not work with a laugh track, which makes jokes I might have otherwise smiled or even laughed at feel like hackery.

"The Rules for Starting Over"
Who's in it: Craig Bierko, Rashida Jones, Shaun Majumder and Johnny Sneed
What it's about: Four friends in their 30s struggle to re-enter the dating world at the end of long relationships.
Pluses: Umm... it's nice to know Rashida Jones will have another job lined up once "The Office" sends Karen on her way.
Minuses: This is produced by the Farrelly brothers, but it feels like bad imitation Farrelly, with token gags about a human being sexually assaulted by an animal, a disabled character who tells jokes about his condition but won't tolerate them from others, etc. Bierko can be interesting when he gets to play manic (see his ADD musician on "Sex and the City," or him on "Boston Legal" this year), but he makes a poor straight man.


dark tyler said...

So, is "Jezebel James" as good as we expect it to be? And how cool is it that Scott Cohen is in? I didn't remember that.

Btw, did you mean Patricia Heaton?

Anonymous said...

Every review of Jezebel James seems to focus on the laugh track.

Any chance they'll decide to dump it? Or maybe switch to single camera before the show premieres??

Alan Sepinwall said...

So, is "Jezebel James" as good as we expect it to be?

No -- though, again, it's early. But the laughtrack is awful, and the show doesn't really get going until Ambrose shows up two-thirds of the way through.

Btw, did you mean Patricia Heaton?

Yup. So fixed.

Any chance they'll decide to dump it?

God, I hope so. "Rules for Starting Over" is laughtrack-free (I think; I've already forgotten most of it), so it's not like Fox has an all-laughtrack mandate at the moment.

Anonymous said...

I feel as if I've seen all of those shows many times before. Bad sign.

Keith Phipps said...

I got this pilot disc too and didn't even make it to Ambrose's first "Jezebel" appearance. What a crushing letdown. Even without the dialogue I suspect the performances would feel forced and the gags belabored. Maybe I'll feel differently when I watch the whole thing.

Anonymous said...

I've seen Back to You and it's hilarious. If you honestly think it's not as good as the 'Til Death pilot, then you have no business writing about television. I know it's cool to dump on sitcoms and "laugh tracks," but you, sir, couldn't be more wrong.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Fienberg's take