For some reason, this year all the networks decided on a concentrated premiere period. Where shows used to debut and return over the span of weeks, even months, this year the majority are airing their premieres in mid September. So, for TV fans there’s lots to squeeze in, so I’m going to have to make some snap judgments based on pilot episodes (which can sometimes be poor indicators of where the series will actually go). Sitcoms seem to be making a bit of a comeback so there are a few more of those worth checking out this year.
I really enjoyed the film that was the basis for this sitcom about a middle manager at a mail-order novelty company (they sell fake vomit, etc.) whose entire call centre is outsourced to India. While the movie was more about an American learning to fit into the Indian culture while sharing his own culture, the series makes the Indian characters appear to be the fishes-out-of-water even though they are the vast majority. The jokes are unsophisticated, ethnic slapstick playing off stereotypes. The outsourcing backdrop has a lot of potential for good comedy, so I hope the show shifts the focus back onto the main character of Todd Dempsy (played by Ben Rappaport) and his struggles as part of the culture-clash.
Mike & Molly
While we’re on the topic of cheap laughs from sterotypes, this show is about the romantic adventures of two characters who meet at an Overeaters Anonymous meeting. Unfortunately the jokes (coming mostly from Billy Gardell as Mike) sound more like a standup routine rather than dialogue. Melissa McCarthy is sweet and charming as Molly, but her family are horribly-broad, working-class caricatures (including Swoosie Kurtz as her boozy mother), and Mike’s cop partner friend Reno seems too ‘superfly’ for my taste. The only thing that saves this show from serious offense is the charm of the two leads. Fortunately, there is a lot of charm there to be had, so maybe (in the age of The Biggest Loser) this show has got a shot.
Critics like this show as the new comedy of the season, but to me it’s just another spiritual successor to Malcolm in the Middle, and My Name is Earl. In the first episode, 20-year-old Jimmy has sex with a strange girl in his van resulting in a daughter who he needs to care for after the mother is executed for murder (yes, they did!). Despite the dark premise, this show is not serious at all. Jimmy’s dad is a pool cleaner prone to pranks and other childishness, and mom is a cynical cleaning lady with a smart mouth (see also Roseanne). The laughs come both from Jimmy’s cluelessness about being a father, and his wacky family’s take-this-job-and-shove-it, blue-collar attitude. So not for me.
No pun intended, but this series is the wild card of the new batch. Will Arnett plays a spoiled, rich man-child who tries to win the heart of his childhood sweetheart, an enviro-anthropological do-gooder played by Keri Russell, by having her stay with him in his mansion. She brings with her a daughter (with the wonderful name of Puddle) who is only too eager to escape the jungle life. This seemed more like the premise of a romantic comedy than a sitcom, so I’m curious to see where it goes over several episodes. Nevertheless, the pilot was surprisingly funny in an oddball kind of way, and instead of the overused device of the “documentary interview”, I was happy that they had Puddle do a lot of winking narration instead.
Better With You
Don’t let the too-generic name, or the so-done-before premise fool you. This might be my favourite new comedy of the season. Basically it’s about a family of three couples. Mom and dad have been married for 35 years, with a new every-moment-counts attitude after losing most of their savings. Older sister Maddie and boyfriend Ben have been living together for 9 years and bristle at the question of whether or not they need to marry. Younger sister Mia and new fiance Casey have been together for 7 weeks, but the crazy kids got engaged after Mia learned that she’s pregnant. This show has excellent dialogue and some of my favourite actors, including JoAnna Garcia as Mia and Debra Jo Rupp as mom, Vicky. Kudos to new dude Jake Lacy as Casey, whose clueless charm steals the show. He even got me to like a character who is the kind of slacking, irresponsible, frat-boy-type that I love to loathe. This is the perfect companion to Modern Family (which is probably why ABC scheduled them back to back).
Modern Family – Speaking of last year’s gold star, the Pritchett-Dunphy clan is back without a lot of fanfare, but just a normal, nice episode about nostalgia and kids growing up. It’s amazing how we seem to know these characters so well after only one season! I’m glad they’re back. The Office – They started with some ridiculous lip-syncing opening sequence and I was shaking my head at the over-trying. Michael is his usually idiotic self trying to defend the nepotism of hiring his good-for-nothing teenage nephew. The only good change might be that Kelly’s gotten some management training so maybe she’s not going to be a total flake anymore. Community – Brita’s embarrassing declaration of unrequited love for Jeff last season has her more popular than ever, which might be a good boost for a kinda unlikeable character. Annie and Jeff continue a secret romance (which would never lead to bad storylines, right?). I don’t have a good feeling about this season overall, but maybe Betty White can save the show (she’s like a comedic Heather Locklear) … 30 Rock – Sorry, Fey-Baldwin fans, but I have almost no interest anymore. Was this show always about the characters’ dating lives? I thought it was about a sketch-comedy show and the antics behind-the-scenes. I remain unconvinced of Jason Bourne’s comedic abilities and let’s not even mention Tracy hallucinating Kenneth everywhere — stupidly disturbing.
The Big Bang Theory – Sheldon’s first date with Mayim Bialik’s Amy is a riot once they start crunching the numbers on Penny’s sluttiness, but Howard’s robot arm mishap (he gets it caught on little Howard) is so far beneath this series it’s subterranean. Let’s hope the former is a better indicator of future humour than the latter. How I Met Your Mother – I can’t believe that after 5 seasons we are still on Ted picking up girls in a bar … let’s meet the future-wife already! At least Lilly and Marshall are dealing with grown up stuff (Marshall’s overly-close relationship with his dad). Robin, what happened to you? You’re so much better than a dumpee-slob. This show was so much better too.
I don’t think there are any new dramedies, but I’m really glad that Glee is back. They made a big bang at the start with some new characters and two new prospective glee club members stole the show with their performances. I especially liked Sunshine Corazon’s performances: “Telephone” was really fun (though inexplicably cut short by nasty ol’ Sue Sylvester) and “Listen” brought down the house. Sadly, neither prospect joined the club, and the mean-yet-fun teaming up of Will and Sue against new female football coach Bieste was short-lived. I’m looking forward to the Britney Spears episode coming up, and even more to what this season has in store. Chuck is totally the show that keeps on ticking. I enjoy the reinvention that it constantly undergoes including this season’s addition of Linda Hamilton (I totally love her!) as mother Bartowski, and the transformation of the Buy More into a covert government facility. I wonder when they’re going to bring Jeffster back.