Thursday, February 24, 2005

The Child Is The Father Of The Man

Jack & Bobby is the sort of show we've come to expect from The WB. That is, it's a show focussed on teen angst but with a gimmick. It's standard stuff for The WB. Roswell gave us teen angst where the teens were aliens sent to earth to keep them safe from a civil war on their own world. Buffy The Vampire Slayer was teen angst where there were vampires and monsters to fight. Smallville is teen angst in a small town where one of the teens happens to be the guy who will become Superman and already has some of the powers. So what's the gimmick with Jack & Bobby? Well, one of them grows up to be president of the United States about 40 years from now. It's not a spoiler to say that it's the younger brother, Bobby. Still, it's Jack who is the angsty teen. While Bobby is the one who is being shaped, a lot of the events that are shaping him seem to be happening to Jack, while Bobby is in the background. Watching Jack making mistakes, or just living life, seems to be the leading influence on Bobby's course.

The other major influence on Bobby's life is his mother, Grace McAllister, played by the always interesting Christine Lahti (who as it happens is married to the show's Executive Producer, Tommy Schlamme). To put it mildly, Grace is larger than life, and in some ways almost a caricature. She's a liberal feminist professor at a small but well regarded university in Missouri. She's also a single mom (never married and the boys' father is an extremely shadowy figure), who tends to be overly controlling of her children even though her personal life is anything but controlled. She is overly fond of pot, something that brings her into conflict with Jack, and she's also started an affair with a younger man. Tom is not only her teaching assistant but she's also his thesis advisor. The affair has recently become public and has had major consequences for just about everyone, even if Tom is too dense to see them. Rounding out the main characters are Jack's best friend Marcus Ride, and the University president, Peter Benedict and his daughter Courtney. Peter Benedict is on his way to becoming a major influence on Bobby's life, one that tends to balance out Grace. Peter is conservative, but tends to treat Bobby as more of an adult than Grace does. For his part Bobby seems to have a puppy-like devotion to Peter, initially because Peter saved Bobby from a severe asthma attack but mainly because Bobby desperately needs an adult male role model.

An interesting aspect of the show is that each episode but one has had vignettes from the presidency of Robert McAllister inserted into the narrative. These are told by various people in the life of the adult Bobby, including his wife Courtney (the same Courtney who is the daughter of Peter Benedict and will be in a relationship with Jack McAllister) and his chief advisor Marcus Ride. These are done as a series of interviews for a documentary about the (presumably dead) President McAllister. We learn that Bobby became a Republican (much to his mother's disgust) but broke with the party and that he won the presidency because a bus load of students from Chicago drove to their home state of Missouri to vote for him. Mostly what we learn is how the events of the present that are the focus of the show reflect or influence the attitudes and decisions that President McAllister will make forty years from now. Their importance to the show can't be ignored - the one episode that didn't feature a "flash-forward" was unusually flat.

I enjoy Jack & Bobby and the show seems to have attracted a loyal fan base - a small, loyal fan base. The show was initially seen on Sunday and earned anaemic ratings and was soon switched to Wednesday nights after Smallville. It hasn't fared much better there, although to be fair the show is up against a powerful lineup on all four of the major networks - American Idol (Fox), The West Wing (NBC), Alias (ABC), and the combination of King of Queens and (now) Yes Dear (CBS). The one thing that the show has going for it (beyond that small but loyal fan base) is the critical acclaim that the show has garnered from a variety of sources. It has even earned Screen Actors Guild and Golden Globe nominations for Christine Lahti (she didn't win either losing the SAG award to Jennifer Garner, and the Golden Globe to Mariska Hargitay) which is rare enough for a WB show to be noteworthy. It seems likely that Jack & Bobby will be cancelled at the end of this season - which would be a shame because it is a rather likable series if people would just give it a chance. The simple truth is that the show has never been in a good time slot in terms of fitting with its lead-in. A better time slot would be on Monday after Seventh Heaven but that slot has been given to Everwood and isn't likely to be taken away from it. As much as I hate to say it - because I've grown to like the show even if I'm not a fanatic about it as I am with some other shows - don't expect to see Jack & Bobby on The WB's lineup next fall.

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