'The Guest Book': TV Review

The atmosphere is amiable, the laughs are few.
8/3/2017

TBS' anthology comedy series occasionally charms despite the dearth of guffaws.

The story goes that writer Greg Garcia (My Name Is Earl) came up with the idea for TBS' new half-hour, 10-episode anthology sitcom The Guest Book after penning some creative fictions of his own in several vacation cabin ledgers. His goal there was to freak out the next occupants. His ambition here is to much more amiably tickle viewers' funny bones. At that he doesn't much succeed, if the first four episodes are any indication. But since the overall aura is benign and the cast (guest-starring and recurring) all game, it's difficult to bear a grudge.

Somewhere in a small mountain town (the exteriors were filmed in the private California community of Pine Mountain Club) sits a guest house nicknamed Froggy Cottage, run by the good-natured Wilfrid (Charlie Robinson). Next door to the cottage lives divorced doctor Andrew Brown (Garret Dillahunt), who dreams of getting his broken family back together. And the town below the residents includes Officer Kimberly Leahy (Kellie Martin), a seemingly stern traffic cop who really just wants a romantic partner, as well as Vivian (Carly Jibson) and her stepson Frank (Lou Wilson), who run the local, sparsely attended strip club Chubbys and attempt to blackmail vacationers with videotapes of their, let's call them, extracurricular activities.

All these characters have their narrative arcs, though Garcia (who wrote every episode) is clearly teasing them out over the course of the season. The primary focus in each installment is on a set of guest stars who occupy the cabin and write about their resulting comic travails in the guest book. Garcia's method is accelerated breeziness, so broad jokes about sexless relationships, birth control, plural marriage and Mike Huckabee fly by so quickly that their lameness barely registers. The funniest gag (very meta) is a recurring one in which office worker Arlo (Arjay Smith) breathlessly recaps the previous week's episode to his not-having-it colleague Woody (John Milhiser), who couldn't care less about this cabin-in-the-woods cable-TV farce that Arlo keeps recommending.

Are you an Arlo or a Woody? Odds are there will be more of the latter than the former among The Guest Book's prospective viewership. (This series is so disposable it would barely fill up a tall kitchen trash bag.) Yet there's still pleasure in watching a seasoned comedienne like Stockard Channing and an old pro like Holmes Osborne try to spin gold out of a creaky tale about devout religious parents attempting to convert their son's atheist girlfriend (Mary Lynn Rajskub). Or delight in observing the commitment of the great John Ortiz as he acts the brace-faced nerd around his ravishingly beautiful girlfriend (Jaime Pressly), a former porn star who spends most of the episode high on pot brownies. That's modern comedy for you; take your amusements where you can.

Writer-creator: Greg Garcia
Executive producers: Greg Garcia, Alix Jaffe
Cast: Carly Jibson, Charlie Robinson, Lou Wilson, Kellie Martin, Garret Dillahunt
Directors: Greg Garcia, Mike Fresco, Eval Gordin, Samir Rehem, Michael Engler
Premieres: Thursday, 10 p.m. ET/PT (TBS)

The story goes that writer Greg Garcia (My Name Is Earl) came up with the idea for TBS's new half-hour, ten episode anthology sitcom The Guest Book after penning some creative fictions of his own in several vacation cabin ledgers. His goal there was to freak out the next occupants. His ambition here is to much more amiably tickle viewers' funny bones. At that he doesn't much succeed, if the first four episodes are any indication. But since the overall aura is benign and the cast (guest-starring and recurring) all game, it's difficult to bear a grudge.

Somewhere in a small mountain town (the exteriors were filmed in the private California community of Pine Mountain Club) sits a guest house nicknamed Froggy Cottage, and run by the good-natured Wilfrid (Charlie Robinson). Next door to the cottage lives divorced doctor Andrew Brown (Garret Dillahunt), who dreams of getting his broken family back together. And in the town below the residents include Officer Kimberly Leahy (Kellie Martin), a seemingly stern traffic cop who really just wants a romantic partner, as well as Vivian (Carly Jibson) and her stepson Frank (Lou Wilson), who run the local, sparsely attended strip club Chubbys and attempt to blackmail vacationers with tapes of their salacious pecadilloes.

All these characters have their narrative arcs, though Garcia (who wrote every episode) is clearly teasing them out over the course of the season. The primary focus in each episode is on a set of guest stars who occupy the cabin and write about their resulting comic travails in the guest book. Garcia's method is accelerated breeziness, so broad jokes about sexless relationships, birth control, plural marriage and Mike Huckabee fly by so quickly that their lameness barely registers. The funniest gag (very meta) is a recurring one in which office worker Arlo (Arjay Smith) breathlessly recaps the previous week's episode to his colleague Woody (John Milhiser), who could care less about this cabin-in-the-woods series that Arlo keeps harping on.

Are you a Woody or an Arlo? Odds are there will be more of the former than the latter among The Guest Book's prospective viewership. (This series is so disposable it would barely fill up a tall kitchen trash bag.) Yet there's still pleasure in watching a seasoned comedienne like Stockard Channing and an old pro like Holmes Osborne try to spin gold out of a creaky tale about devout religious parents trying to convert their son's athiest girlfriend (Mary Lynn Rajskub). Or delighting in the commitedness of the great character actor John Ortiz as he acts the brace-faced nerd around his ravishingly beautiful girlfriend (Jaime Pressly), a former porn star who spends most of the episode high on pot brownies. That's modern comedy for you; take your amusement where you can.

Creator: Greg Garcia

Executive Producers: Greg Garcia, Alix Jaffe

Cast: Carly Jibson, Charlie Robinson, Lou Wilson, Kellie Martin, Garret Dillahunt

Directors: Greg Garcia, Mike Fresco, Eval Gordin, Samir Rehem, Michael Engler

Writer: Greg Garcia

Premieres: August 3rd, 10 p.m. (TBS)

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