Thursday, October 02, 2008

Gary Unmarried – This Viewer Wants A Divorce

I've got some good news and some bad news for the people who are associated with Gary Unmarried. The good news is that it's not as bad as Do Not Disturb (and boy if you could have seen the typo I made on that title you'd laugh). The bad news is that it's not as good as Two And A Half Men. Say what you want about that show, at least it's funny, something that I can't describe Gary Unmarried as being.

I missed the pilot episode last week, preferring to watch House and trying to do my duty with the revival of Knight Rider so I don't know all of the details of the relationships. Maybe that's for the best since it means that I was dropped into a more typical episode than most pilots tend to be. Gary Brooks, played by Jay Mohr, is a recently divorced house who is starting a new relationship with divorcee Vanessa Flood (Jaime King) even as he deals with his ex-wife Allison (Paula Marshall) and her new fiancé Dr. Walter Krandall (Ed Begley Jr.) who used to be their couples councillor. And then there's Gary's relationship with his teenage son Tom (Ryan Malgarini), and his nearly teenage daughter Louise (Kathryn Newton). I shall now pause for people like Sutpen and Shreve to make remarks about Louise Brooks.

In Wednesday's episode, Gary and Vanessa have been having some very energetic sex, the net result of which is that Gary (who used to play football and surfs and as I mentioned is a housepainter) has thrown out his back. He doesn't want to tell Vanessa about this since he figures that she'll drop him for someone younger and "fitter" (if you get my drift). He wants help from Allison, who knows how to fix his back but isn't inclined to help him because of the way he threw his back out. Eventually he decides to go over to his old house (which Allison got in the divorce) and use the hot tub, believing that Allison won't be home. He's talking to Allison on his cell phone, lying about being caught in traffic as he goes to get a beer from her refrigerator. Trouble is that Allison's at home and catches him in the kitchen. For reasons which defy any sort of explanation, Gary drops his swim trunks and stands in front of Allison naked. And of course he's unable to put them on again – remember he can't bend down. Rather than touching either the swim trunks or her husband, Allison uses kitchen tongs to handle the shorts and then throws the tongs into the garbage. She also bans Gary from the house, though of course she feels free to go into his house whenever the fancy strikes her. And the fancy strikes her when for some reason she has to take their daughter's cello over to Gary's. I think it had to do with Allison being sure that Gary hadn't returned the thing and when Walter found it in the laundry room she "naturally" tried to sneak it into his house. Of course Gary's there and after a bit of sparring, Allison agrees to work on Gary's back...which consists of walking on it and taking out some of her own frustrations on him. It seems that she's worried about getting old and unsexy. Gary reassures her that if he were to see her in a bar and didn't know who she was, he'd pick her up. And, as it turns out, Gary's own worries about approaching forty and needing to have energetic sex with Vanessa isn't something he has to worry about – Vanessa's worried about being able to keep up with him in that department.

There's a rather pointless B-plot about Gary's son Tom and his new – hottie – girlfriend who wants to hold hands everywhere, which is starting to annoy Tom. Gary advises him to tell her about his annoyance about this and how he doesn't want to hold hands as much anymore. This leads her to start kissing instead.

I don't know that much about Jay Mohr as an actor. I know that he was on Saturday Night Live and that he starred in the FOX comedy Action, so I know that he can do comedy (I also know that the lucky S.O.B. is married to Nikki Cox in real life), and I recall some of his more serious acting, particularly from The West Wing where he played a right-wing talk show host who annoyed CJ on a regular basis. So perhaps I should give him the benefit of the doubt her and put the blame for this debacle on the writing. Despite what I regard as an overaggressive use of the laugh track, there really wasn't that much funny about this show. Paula Marshall had a couple of funny lines when she talks about how she suddenly feels old and unsexy: for the first time she hasn't been able to flirt her way out of a traffic ticket, and when the cop found out her age he asked her she knew his mother...and she did. A couple of good lines and the situation with the shorts and the kitchen tongs aren't enough to make a show though.

Worst of all is Ed Begley's character. First of all we are meant to believe that Begley (real age 59) is involved with Paula Marshall (real age 44). We are also meant to believe that Walter is still working as a shrink and councillor despite the fact that he entered into a relationship with one part of the couple he was working with, not to mention the fact that he name drops the famous people that he works with – like Sir Ben Kingsley. Either thing is enough in real life to cause a lot of problems for a person in his profession. Ah, but the character gets even worse. He is at times an unthinking self-centred jerk. He doesn't drive but rides a bike instead, so when Allison – who should know better – asks him to drop her kids off with Gary, Walter is able to ride Louise over on his bike...and forces Tom to run along behind. Beyond that, the guy is insufferable because he does everything perfectly, whether it's cooking or playing the cello. And we are supposed to believe that Allison can't see through this guy's line of B.S.

As I've said more than once, I have drifted away from sitcoms over the years. Shows like Gary Unmarried are part of the reason why. The writing is subpar and the laugh track is used to try to convince us that something funny is going on. And yet, as I said, it isn't as bad as Do Not Disturb because they at least try to do some funny material and occasionally they actually hit with it...just not as often as they hope to and certainly not as often as top comedies like Big Bang Theory, How I Met Your Mother or – yes it's sad but true – Two And A Half Men. And I don't even want to mention edgy shows (by broadcast standards) like 30 Rock or The Office because this show is nowhere near the quality of those series. I'm not even sure that I could recommend a way to make this show work if I wanted to. I'm given to understand that this show isn't doing well in the ratings, thanks I suppose to Bones and (ugh) Knight Rider, so maybe we'll see something different, and probably better, in this time slot. On aesthetic grounds, this show isn't so bad that it has to be dumped as soon as possible. I can just barely see it limping along for the thirteen episodes the network has signed for – something that becomes more likely with the possibility of a SAG strike, but even with a SAG strike it won't go much beyond that. More importantly, unless the writers do something significantly different (and I can almost guarantee they won't) this show doesn't deserve to go further.

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