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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 and then tried unsuccessfully to explain it away.
There was comedy gold there because Hunt was able to successfully 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 hit sitcom star who has made enough money to just 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 both mortified and curious. And 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 be 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. Unless someone told Reiser that the American public is obsessed with celebrities and the nuances of their offscreen lives. Of course, they just might be, but probably not when it’s presented as an off-the-cuff comedy that doesn’t have any real laughs in it.
That’s not entirely true. In the pilot, all the scenes with David are funny, and it makes you want to Google “when is Curb Your Enthusiasm coming back?”
David’s presence can’t be completely by chance, even if he and Reiser are friends from way back. David’s Curb is kinda-sorta what Paul Reiser dreams to be, except that it leaves out most of the funny and/or painful-to-watch moments that provoke laughter. Instead, it feels like a sitcom that was dreamt up over breakfast and pitched to NBC because, well, that’s the site of the last bit of glory.
That part is ingenious in that NBC really has no track record of making sane decisions, so giving the green light to a show like this was odds-on a greater possibility than, say, pitching it to Fox.
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 more than an idea scribbled on a napkin, stick with Reiser.
It’s not that Reiser himself is unfunny. It’s that he needs to be in a traditional sitcom — the kind they manufacture like Chinese curios over 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, for reasons that escape a sane brain, to go for a single-camera-comedy look. That might have been perfect if someone had nailed the tone down from the start or told the supporting actors to be more natural, less sitcomlike. But that fluid faux-reality is nowhere to be seen and contributes to the show’s unlikable aspect. 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 but shot as a single-camera comedy and somewhere lost in the translation was the actual comedy.
Paul Reiser seeks to mine gold from the fact he was a former sitcom star now bored and bogged down in friendships with the husbands of his wife’s friends or 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, a title like that promises far more than this show about famous people looking to fight boredom with a comeback 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 for getting the kinks out, there would be no reason to watch.
If Reiser makes two episodes for CBS — a far better fit for his brand of comedy — then maybe they’d be worth watching. But 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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