Saturday, April 09, 2005
I Love Franny
Let me start out with a disclaimer. I was predisposed to like Living With Fran, and that's largely because I like Fran Drescher. If The Nanny was a retread of I Love Lucy with different accents (and think about it: Max and Fran as Ricky and Lucy, Niles and C.C. as Fred and Ethel) it was still funnier than a lot of shows of the same period. Besides, Fran Drescher made me laugh during one of the darker periods of my life and for that I am eternally grateful. That said, I will now state that I am somewhat disappointed with Living With Fran. The WB aired two episodes of the show tonight (separated by an episode of Reba, a show which is a guilty pleasure of mine) and while it's not the worst comedy currently on the air, it doesn't live up to the standards set by The Nanny, at least not yet.
Drescher plays Fran Reeves. Fran has been divorced for a couple of years and of course lives in a typical TV divorcee's house - big and with lots of rooms that are in the process of expensive renovations - that indicates that she took her ex to the cleaners in the divorce. What sets Fran apart from her time slot neighbour Reba is that not only is she sexually active but she's living with a much younger man. How much younger? Well it's not explicitly stated in the episodes that aired tonight but at one point he was supposed to be younger than Fran's son, although that concept seems to have been abandoned. Riley - or "R-dog" as he suggests the son can call him - is a 26 year-old contractor played with a certain charming density by Ryan McPartlin, formerly of the soap Passions, while the son, Josh, is played by new comer Ben Feldman. In the pilot episode Josh returns home after being expelled from Medical School (he suffered a nervous breakdown after 72 hours and 46 cups of coffee, and attacked a male nurse with a bone saw). Josh has issues, and they aren't improved with the jock who is now sleeping with his mother, or that they've changed his old room into a home gym (based on the equipment in that room she must have hit the jackpot in the divorce). To top it off there's a bass player named Duane (Branden Williams) living in Josh's old closet. About the only thing stable is that - like all sitcom siblings - Josh and his sister (Misti Traya) couldn't agree on what colour the White House is.
Originally called Shacking Up the show probably should be more ground breaking than it actually is. Except for the fact that Drescher's character is in her 40s and living with a man almost half her age, this could be just about any current sitcom, the elements are all there. It's a good idea, particularly in a world where people are wondering if Ashton Kutcher is going to make Demi Moore a mother again, but the execution may not be up to the job. The writing, particularly in the pilot episode felt weak and consequently the laughs seemed forced. Misti Traya is good as the teenaged sister, but the character is the typical sitcom rebellious teen. Feldman is quite good as the neurotic son, but has to contend with writing that at times makes him seem like an obnoxious jerk. In the two episodes screened on Friday, Branden Williams played a minimal role in the first episode, and was totally absent in the second. Actually the writing seemed to improve in the second episode shown, which happened to be the tenth episode shot. It also benefitted from the presence of Marilu Henner as Ryan's mother, who is as set against the relationship as Josh is, although she softens her objections when she hears the story of how the couple came together.
Of course the series will live and die on Fran Drescher's portrayal of Fran Reeves. At various times she's a woman at her sexual peak with a younger man to make love to, a very Jewish mother (she almost seems to be channelling the Sylvia Fine character played by Renee Taylor in The Nanny), and a woman who is finally happy with her life. As Fran describes her life she went from her parents' house directly to her husband's house and only now has found happiness in her life. Her son even notices it - he says that he's never really seen her smile during her marriage, to which she replied that the only time she'd smiled was when she threw her husband out. Drescher has to sell us on that and also that she's the sot of woman who can attract and keep a man almost half her age. It's not just a question of looks - at 47 Drescher is gorgeous - it's also a question of attitude. I think she carries it off but the question is how long she can carry it. In The Nanny she had a strong supporting cast most notably the extremely versatile Daniel Davis and Lauren Lane to work off of. In the new series her supporting cast is much weaker meaning that the show is even more of a potential showcase for Drescher than The Nanny was. I expect that I'll keep watching if only to see Fran work, and hope that the show improves around her. For now it goes on the guilty pleasure list.