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“Unfunny” is the magic word. And this from a network where the unfortunate slogan is “Very Funny.”
Tyler Perry’s House of Payne, Are We There Yet? and Meet the Browns are the trifecta of mediocrity, playing to an audience that has precious few other choices. And yet, steps have clearly been taken to move beyond what is essentially remixed and rebaked UPN fare. George Lopez has a late night show. And you might have heard about this kid Conan bringing his team to TBS. If you squint a little bit, you can view TBS as a professional football team that has been the perennial doormat when it comes to original programming, but is now on the cusp of turning things around (thanks in large part to free agent Conan O’Brien, recently cut from that inept broadcast franchise known as NBC).
Which makes the arrival of Glory Daze all the more surprising and encouraging. Despite the yeah-that’ll-do title and the fact that nostalgia is a genre where things can go sideways very quickly, the premiere episode of this hour-long look at college freshman in the 1980s has a lot going for it.
It’s another example of a premise sounding terrible on paper but suddenly blossoming with potential once it’s shot. Glory Daze is about four disparate freshman (and a legion of encouraging sub characters and high-profile cameos) that start their college lives together looking to find out who they are and what they want in life. But first, they decide to band together to tour fraternities, even though they’re not entirely sold on the idea.
Joel (Kelly Blatz) is a pre-med student from an all-boys Catholic school who gets dropped off – and embarrassed — by his parents (Brad Garrett and Cheri Oteri). Eli (Matt Bush) is an insecure Jewish virgin trying to reinvent himself (badly) as a ladies man. Jason (Drew Seeley) is a preppie, straight-laced Christian who believes he has a life of entitlement mapped out for himself. And Brian (Hartley Sawyer), is a jock with a 95 mph fastball but no real love of the game.
You can probably imagine the roadblocks to success that confronted creators Walt Becker (Wild Hogs) and Michael LeSieur (You, Me and Dupree) – above and beyond those bad films. College themes are fairly predictable. College themes about guys are very predictable. Clinging to nostalgia only gets you so far. Add fraternities and, well, it only gets worse. Besides, with those character traits – plus “the Asian guy” named Chang (Tim Jo), you might expect a semi-truck full of cliches to come barreling in at any moment.
But ultimately it’s only a mini-van. And that ends up being tolerable because Glory Daze is both unexpectedly funny, at times heartwarming and the sheen of nostalgia covers up a lot of stuff you might otherwise get picky about. When the show blasts out all those one-hit wonders from the ’80s, well, you just kind of smile and go with it. (Here’s hoping that even half of the soundtrack gets cleared – there’s always cheeky and geeky fun in the synth-heavy sounds of the ’80s).
The pilot proves that even at an hour, Glory Daze is far more comedy than dramedy. But the added length from a standard sitcom allows the writers to flesh out the characters to make them more than stereotypes (particularly Chang).
Bush is particularly funny as Eli and Blatz has a likeable quality in Joel, who is ostensibly the main character. Yes, there are moments when the writers can’t seem to contain themselves from the obvious and the over-wrought (beer, sex and masturbation being the usual culprits), but at least the premiere of Glory Daze proves enough to surprise cynics who might have thought it was going to be awful (given the premise and TBS’s heretofore inability to make a quality series).
Comparisons to NBC’s Community are inevitable (especially with Tim Meadows being an odd-duck teacher ala Ken Jeong), but these are different vehicles with college at the core. Give Glory Daze at least a few more episodes to see if it can continue to surprise.
E-mail Tim Goodman at email@example.com.
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