Sunday, October 04, 2009

TV: Sister Honey

CBS' Accidentally On Purpose is a sitcom on the Monday line up but, for us, it brings to mind a Stevie Nicks song.

Well I think you will like Sister Honey

She will help you

Make up your mind

Even if you don't need her

Tell her you need her

She needs you brother

She needs you brother.

A little over a third of the way into the pilot episode, Jenna Elfman's Billie laments she just got a boy toy and now she's pregnant: "I broke my boy toy." She explained, "I mean, I finally had a boy toy and I only got to play with him for a couple of weeks! And now my boy toy got me pregnant. And when I tell him, he's going to freak out. I broke my boy toy!" Prior to that?

One minute Billie's pinching her nipples at a bar so she'll catch former beau James' attention (no such luck, he arrives with Kate Moss on his arm), the next she's flashing back on James flying her to Paris and her wanting marriage. He tells her that when they started dating, she knew he didn't want to get married and she was fine with that. She tells him that people end up doing things they don't think they'll do all the time. And that's the break up. With James at the bar with a super model, Billie's attention turns to three younger guys who are hitting on her. Jon Foster's Zack is clearly the winner of the three and next thing you know, she's at Zack's apartment explaining she never does one night stands. Zack, of course, tells her people do lots of things they don't think they'll do. And they're off . . . to the futon.

That's a huge amount of back story for a pilot and the setup doesn't come until Billie gets the results of her pregnancy test.

Now between the futon and the pregnancy test, Billie and Zack make out multiple times. It's incorrect to say -- as some have -- that she's pregnant as a result of a one night stand. She's pregnant as a result of what she thinks is a fling.

When Zack accompanies her to the doctor, he learns she's 37 despite her telling him she was 32. It's the sort of detail you might not share with a fling.

And though some pretend to have such a hard time grasping the premise, that's what it is: A fling becomes a relationship.

But who needs to grasp a show when you're too busy conducting a war on women. Tom Shales (Washington Post) has been conducting a one-pig war on women for over 40 years. He continues it by insisting, "There's a bit of timeliness in the premise: a cougar on the prowl." A cougar on the prowl? Did he watch the show? She didn't go looking for a younger man to have sex with (that's what a cougar on the prowl would be doing). Calling her "Billie-kins," Shales continues his standard operating procedure of diminishing women. He then carps, "It's not easy to buy the notion that she's a film critic, however; the only cinematic reference she makes in the premiere is to Meg Ryan movies. She does have a 'Gilda' poster in her apartment, however, so that's a clue, almost." Again, did he watch the show? We saw numerous film posters (including a Greta Garbo film, An American Werewolf in London, etc. -- and only the one in what is now the nursery has been pulled since the show began airing). Maybe Shales is on yet another snack run every time a character walks through Billie's hallway? Somehow he also managed to fail to mention Billie going on about Gone With The Wind in the first episode.

Then there are those like Mandi Bierly (Entertainment Weekly) who insist that Jon Foster just isn't up for the show. That is both hilarious and ignorant. Dharma & Greg, the sitcom which made Jenna Elfman a star, teamed her with Thomas Gibson who was really best known in the industry as the guy who had no chemistry and was in-and-out as Sam Fowler on Another World for exactly that reason. He went on to a prime time ensemble soap/medical show (Chicago Hope) and got damn lucky when he was cast opposite Jenna Elfman. He now stars in one of TV's many cookie cutter crime shows. The way 'critics' like Mandi carp about Jon Foster, you'd think Elfman co-starred with Richard Dreyfuss in Dharma & Greg. (The two co-starred in the film Krippendorf's Tribe.)

Some of the 'critics' carping about Foster insist -- despite the storyline -- that he's a man-boy (the term would be "mannish" -- apparently the Water Cooler Set has a limited vocabulary) and it's part of an effort to be 'trendy.' Have they seen Foster?

If they wanted to be trendy, he'd have at least a few bits of chest hair. After years and years of the plucked chicken look being 'in,' Ed Westwick brought hairy back (eat your heart out, Timberlake). Meanwhile Foster's more shockingly smooth than anything since the 2006 ads for Haynes Underwear's Marvel boxers featuring an apparently well-waxed Wolverine.

Despite all the carping, Jon Foster holds his own as Zack. Maybe the 'critics' have confused acting with character? Zack is still finding himself (in the second episode, he gave up his dream to go to culinary school across the country because it would mean him being away from his child). That he can be onscreen with Ashley Jensen is an accomplishment all its own. Jensen (fresh from Ugly Betty) plays Billie's best friend and co-worker Olivia. On this show, she's Susan Sullivan in that every joke detonates and even the non-funny lines are made humorous by Olivia -- just as Sullivan made Kitty one of the main reasons to watch Dharma & Greg.

As she photographs the back of her head, Billie needs to know if enough time has elapsed for the results of the pregnancy test? "Was I supposed to be timing it?" asks Olivia. Told she needs to take the test more seriously, she responds with fake sincerity, "Your first pregnancy test, that's adorable." She will repeatedly ask "the hard questions" (such as is Billie keeping the baby) because, as she explains, she's a trained journalist. It's her life training that makes her most interesting such as when she finds out Billie and Zack didn't use birth control and counsels, "Billie, Billie, Billie. Always use a condom. And an alias." She can get a laugh with just a head turn.

That's not always for the best. There's a lot of carping from some 'critics' about the canned laughter. Canned? Jenna's big moment in the pilot, her only real dramatic moment, was when her character accepts that she's pregnant and going to give birth. Via Jensen's zany Olivia, the audience ends up laughing at that moment when they weren't supposed to. Just last week, we were talking about all the hoops women have to jump through when a show centers around them. Apparently "canned laughter" is a problem only for Jenna's show. Every other sitcom on CBS' Monday night line up uses a laugh track.

Between Dharma & Greg and Accidentally On Purpose, Jenna's had two high profile TV moments. On Two And A Half Men, she did a two-parter as a zany woman whose in-laws were attempting to take away her child. She also briefly starred in Courting Alex which was supposed to be her show but spent too much time on Dabney Coleman and too little on Jenna and Josh Randall. The romantic comedy her last series should have been is what Accidentally On Purpose is.

And like a good romantic comedy (Dharma & Greg, for example), the show's populated with zany characters. There's Billie's sister Abby (Lennon Parham) who is as inhibited as Thomas Gibson's Greg was. There's Nicolas Wright's Davis, best friend to Zack, who recalls Dharma's father in many ways. The really big surprise here was Grant Show -- or, rather, that Grant Show could be funny. We both know Grant and think the camera rarely does his looks justice. While we're not surprised when he manages to handle a dramatic role, we really were surprised that he could handle comedy and handle it so well.

Grant's playing James, Billie's ex and Billie's boss which makes him like David Letterman if Letterman were actually sexy. Billie belongs with Zack and that's obvious by the chemistry the two performers have with one another. But it's a real testament to Grant Show's skills that you do find yourself wondering what if . . .

Nobody's right, baby

All the time

And a fool only knows what he's leaving behind

So take some time to know the real story

Cause a soul that's true is your ride to glory

Don't let that golden hair get in your way, baby

Jenna Elfman's comedic talents really are suited for romantic comedy and it's great to find her back in one. The point we've tried to make in this review is that the show -- the one that so many pretend not to get or rush to lump into a 'cougar' genre -- is a romantic comedy. And a damn funny one. Check it out Monday nights on CBS or, for now, stream it online here and/or here. The network that Lucy built can now point to two funny women starring in their own sitcoms: Jenna and Julia Louis-Dreyfus. In the early seventies, it boasted three (Lucy, Carol Burnett and Mary Tyler Moore). It would improve on that number as the seventies progressed. The decade of regression being what it is, two shows starring funny women actually feels like a victory. May a third soon be added.


"Sister Honey," written by Stevie Nicks and Les Dudek, appears on Stevie's Rock A Little album.
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
Poll1 { display:none; }