'The Paul Reiser Show'

Michael Yarish/NBC

If Reiser was going for a "Curb Your Enthusiasm" feel, he has missed it by a mile with this trite NBC offering.

When Paul Reiser starred with Helen Hunt on Mad About You, there was a chemistry there that created a hit. Reiser was his usual verbally bumbling self, a guy who always took the first step into trouble then tried to explain it away. There was comedy gold there because Hunt was able to slice up Reiser's neuroses with tenderness or quick-witted, searing barbs. They played well off of each other.

That is, until the sitcom ran out of funny things to say and became more dramedy than comedy. It became Mad at You. And the funny faded, as did the series. Not much was seen or heard from Reiser after that. Not that he hasn't kept busy writing and producing. But in front of the camera? Not so much. Hence the premise of NBC's The Paul Reiser Show.

Get it? He's a former sitcom star who has made enough money to be a stay-at-home dad. Now he wants to get back in the game. He doesn't really need the money, but there's a game show calling, and he's mortified and curious. Then he becomes semi-obsessed about it because Larry David -- yes, that Larry David -- is also up for it. So all of a sudden, Reiser wants it. Then he tries out, and he's flabbergasted by the stupidity of the contestants. Guest star Mark Burnett thinks Reiser's perfect for the show because he yells at the contestants or is otherwise appalled by their ignorance and makes fun of them. Burnett says that's what Americans really want to see. He hires Reiser, but Reiser declines because he wants to remain a stay-at-home dad. Are you asleep yet?

How this sitcom is going to relate to anyone who hasn't been a sitcom star, then made enough money to not work, is beyond the realm of imagination. Someone might have told Reiser the public is obsessed with celebrities and their offscreen lives, but it just doesn't work when presented as off-the-cuff comedy without any real laughs.

That's not entirely true. In the pilot, all of the scenes with David are funny, and it makes you want to Google, "When is Curb Your Enthusiasm coming back?"

Curb is kinda-sorta what Paul Reiser dreams to be, except the latter leaves out most of the funny and/or painful-to-watch moments that provoke laughter. Instead, it feels like a sitcom dreamt up over breakfast and pitched to NBC because that's the site of the last bit of glory -- ingenious in that NBC really has no track record of making sane decisions, so getting the green light on a show like this was odds-on a greater possibility than, say, pitching it to Fox.

But if Reiser was going for a Curb feel, he's missed it by a mile. Paul Reiser is far more closely related -- one might say nearly identical -- to The Bernie Mac Show, which ran on Fox for five seasons. If you're looking for a lot of laughs, check that one out. If you're looking for a series that never feels like more than an idea scribbled on a napkin, then stick with Paul Reiser.

It's not that Reiser is unfunny. It's that he needs to be in a traditional sitcom, the kind they manufacture like Chinese curios on CBS. Had CBS been able to shape this series, tapping into Reiser's charmingly flustered personality, it might have run for seven or nine seasons. But this version on NBC decided to go for a single-camera-comedy look. Perfect if someone had nailed the tone down or told the supporting actors to be more natural, less sitcomlike, but that fluid faux reality is nowhere to be seen. This is a series in desperate need of a live studio audience or a sickeningly sweetened laugh track and multiple cameras. Why? Because it was written like a multicamera comedy then shot as a single-camera comedy, and somewhere lost in translation was the actual comedy.

Paul Reiser seeks to mine gold from the fact he is a former sitcom star bored and bogged down in friendships with the husbands of his wife's friends and the fathers of his kids' friends. Perhaps Trapped in a Comfortable Suburban Hell would have been a more apt title, but it's too late for that. And even then, that promises far more than Reiser can muster.

While the pilot is tolerable in its attempt to find the right tone, the second episode, with guest star Henry Rollins (try to make sense of that), goes off the tracks almost immediately. Getting to the end of the half-hour felt like something that merited a medal. Finding out that NBC had sent an additional two episodes was like discovering a cruel plot to hurt people unnecessarily. Unless those episodes included extended commentary from Reiser apologizing, there would be no reason to watch.

Nothing in the first two of these trite NBC versions makes you want to continue with the others. Besides, it's probably not too difficult to rent Mad About You from Netflix.

Airdate 8:30 p.m. Thursday, April 14 (NBC)

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