Sunday, January 16, 2005

TV Guidance: What Can You Do With Joey?

NBC's Joey, People's Choice Winner, is the worst show of the year: What can you do with Joey?

Desperate to keep the Thursday audience that they've owned for years, NBC was drooling over the prospect of a Friends' spin-off. Apparently the fact that that the "friend" in question was the least interesting and least popular didn't matter much.

Ross could have found David Schwimmer back at the college or returning to the museum. Either way it would have given Schwimmer and odd ball cast to simmer opposite. The slow burn is Schwimmer's speciality. Rachel could be off in Paris working in the fashion industry.

Even NBC had to know there was no way Jennifer Aniston was going to do a spin-off.

Monica & Chandler wouldn't have been a bad idea. We're no fans of the notion of escaping to the suburbs but imagine the laughs when the escapees who moved out of the cities to find tranquility greet the new neighbors: yelling Monica and whiney Chandler. It could work, a saucy domestic comedy with an edge. Monica attempting to compete with every neighbor, Chandler kissing their ass -- it could be funny. Especially when Courtney Cox taps into Monica's angst. It could be all the things that the tired Everybody Loves Raymond never was.

Phoebe was a spin-off the network should have moved heaven and earth to get. Easily the most talented of all the actors on Friends, Lisa Kudrow never seemed one dimensional and always pulled laughs out of thin air. It would be hard to picture her in a non-funny spin-off. Phoebe at the UN. Phoebe at a law firm. Phoebe at a hospital. Phoebe in a diner. You really can't go wrong with Phoebe and even medicore writing.

But what can you do with Joey?

The last two years of Friends were about turning him from the sex obsessed bafoon into the dope with the soft center. (Matt LeBlanc's weight gain might have been the reason for backing off the sex obsession. Or as Jess's grandma says: "He looks like a young Raymond Burr.")
He no longer has the edge of Kudrow to play off of or Aniston's facial reactions. There's no Matthew Perry around to take this out of Saturday morning cartoon territory. Cox and Schwimmer (who truly did begin to seem similar enough to be siblings as the years wore on) aren't around to inject any energy. It's just . . . Joey.

What can you do with Joey?

Matt LeBlanc doing the same nonsense he did on Friends but he no longer has real actors to bounce off of. The few times a Friends' story revolved solely around Joey, we always took it as a sign to go to the kitchen and grab something to eat. Those episodes don't play well in syndication. Does anyone care when the actress in the play leaves him? Isn't everyone, watching that episode, just waiting for Ross to explode at Rachel's new boyfriend?

All Joey did was mark time. Big laugh, big laugh, insight . . . oh there's Joey. He was dead weight from day one. The only time he mattered at all was when he knew Monica & Chandler were sleeping together. Even that subplot of a subplot couldn't hold our interest long so Rachel and then Phoebe had to be let in on the secret.

Watching the spin-off and seeing Joey date guest star Kelly Preston or think about funding a hair salon or try to come on to the husband of a friend (his vanity, not his sexuality, motivates the last), you start to wonder if maybe Gunther and Central Perk would have been a better spin-off?

What can you do with Joey?

LeBlanc's a funny kind of male "star." Each episode, we keep hearing how sexy is. Even the husband (who's not interested) has to compliment Joey on his legs (specifically, his calves). This is the sort of thing you usually run across in movies starring Joan Crawford in her later years. Possibly because everyone's working so hard talking up the tubby actor, there's no time for humor?

Even if there were time, Joey can't carry a show. Marlo Thomas is one of the few who ever managed the struggling actor bit (That Girl). (Cybill was as much about Cybill Sheridan's career as it was about her friendship and her daughters.) Did no one notice in all the years of Friends that Joey opposite Rachel, Ross, Phoebe, Monica or Chandler was interesting but Joey on his own (with his "twin" trying to scam research centers, with his father and his father's mistress, with his girlfriend the actress, with his model roommate) was boring?

He really was. It's like they decided to build a post-M*A*S*H show around Radar. Not even the disaster that was After M*A*S*H demonstrated that kind of contempt for the viewers.

What can you do with Joey?

NBC's stuck with the show. If they continue to air it, expect it to pull a Jessie in it's second year. Remember that? How bar waitress Christina Applegate turned into a nursing student in the second season opener (and lost her dreary family)? Joey might emerge next year with an entirely different cast and Joey working a new job.

But why even bother to fix it? It's so bad now that it shouldn't even be on the air. When the former "must see TV" night starts off with an episode of Joey that revolves around guest spots by "stars" like Bob Saget, it's really time to the pull the plug.

Instead, NBC seems determined to turn all of us into CSI watchers by inflicting both Joey and The Apprentice upon us. They really are bookends, the two shows. Both revolve around dull men who each managed TV fame off one catch phrase -- Joey: "How you doing?"; Donald: "You're fired." That's all they've got. That's all they've ever had.

NBC Thursday nights, for all the laughs, also gave us groaners like The Single Guy, Union Square, and Cursed. Joey beats them all in the category "most wasted half hour."

After the years of being the butt of so many jokes (Rachel: "You're so pretty."), Joey's now the center of attention only, no surprise, no one wants to watch. And with each passing episode, Matt LeBlanc, looking like a fat Tony Danza, appears more and more nervous. He should be nervous, he's scaring the small number that continues to try to watch his show.

What can you do with Joey?

Pull the plug. Pull the damn plug.

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