'Jennifer Falls': TV Review
Jaime Pressly, Jessica Walter and Missi Pyle headline TV Land's jump to single-camera comedy in a show focused on reassessing one's life after being knocked down a peg.
TV Land is doing some reverse aging with its new series Jennifer Falls, which is the network's first single-camera comedy and first foray into life without a laugh track. Its star, Jaime Pressly is also the youngest of TV Land's female comedy leads (of which there are many, including Betty White, Fran Drescher and Kirstie Alley). In Jennifer Falls, Pressly's Jennifer Doyle has just lost her high-powered corporate job because of her anger issues, and due to some very poor financial management, she and her teenage daughter Gretchen (Dylan Gelula) are forced to move back in with Jennifer's mother, Maggie (Jessica Walter).
With her tightly-cropped pixie haircut and eyes narrowed in constant suspicion, Pressly has the energy and tension of a firecracker whose fuse is lit, ready to carry the show on her tiny shoulders herself if she has to. Her co-stars do lend a hand, though: Jennifer is fired by her bumbling boss, played by Jeffrey Tambor, whose few scenes were the absolute standouts in the show's inaugural half hour (though whether or not he will return is unknown). The other great boon to the cast is Tambor's Arrested Development co-star Walter, who starts off playing against her Lucille Bluth type (though wearing a very similar later-seasons wardrobe), before the writers seem to realize Walter is better used as passive-aggressive and manipulative rather than as a baked-goods-making kind of mother.
There are many things about the pilot, in fact, that don't seem fully considered, like Jennifer's falling out (and then back in with) her childhood friend Dina (Missi Pyle), and her hatred of her sister-in-law, Stephanie (Nora Kirkpatrick), who doesn't appear to do too much to warrant such vitriol, other than wear headbands and give unsolicited financial advice. Jennifer's brother Wayne is played by Pressly's former My Name Is Earl co-star Ethan Suplee, and the two have an easy-going rapport. Strangely though, the underused Suplee's main role so far is to provide a sports bar where Jennifer starts working, and where she is required to wear a child-sized referee outfit -- going against, seemingly, the kind of sexism Jennifer was trying to fight at her job.
Creator Matthew Carlson (Malcolm in the Middle) reportedly conceived of the series as a multi-camera setup. Though that aspect fell away, Carlson has still kept his predilection for having characters narrate or talk to the camera, which isn't used to any great effect here (one of the weakest pilot moments is when Jennifer rattles off working-mother stats to the camera). The swap to a single-camera comedy is one that's on the right track for the show's tone, and yet, the beats of a traditional comedy are still ingrained, keeping Jennifer Falls from being as funny as it could be.
The show's great cast gives it a lot of potential, and they work hard in the pilot to make their thin material viable. Pilots alone are always hard to judge, and comedy pilots the most misleading of all. Great shows have come from shaky starts. Jennifer describes her situation as "from maximum profits to minimum wage." Similarly, the show's cast also gives it incredible potential with only minimal interest right now. But a pilot being a pilot, Jennifer Falls still has a long way to go and a lot it could still prove. TV Land is on the right track for attracting audiences (possibly even younger audiences) who are looking for edgier comedy, but it remains to be seen how the show plays with its core viewership. Ultimately, for the simple sake of seeing former Bluths back on TV, hopefully Jennifer Falls gets a chance to live up to the comedy it's striving to be.
Watch a preview of Jennifer Falls below: