Sunday, January 10, 2010

TV: Gary Unwatchable

In the fall of 2008, CBS began airing a promising sitcom which had all the elements to become a long-running and popular institution. So how did we get to 2010 when the show is unwatchable? The answer can be found in The Class, another CBS sitcom with promise that required tinkering but CBS' 'answers' only destroyed the show.


Gary Unmarried stars Jay Mohr. It used to star Paula Marshall but she's been downgraded in season two. As usual CBS thinks a pig rolling around in his own filth is funny in and of itself, never grasping that most viewers will need non-pigs rolling their eyes to find the s**t flung humorous. Paula Marshall's tremendously talented but she's struggled all season to make Allison, Gary's ex-wife, more than the nagging bitch the scripts increasingly paint her as.

The show started shortly after Gary and Allison divorced. Allison was anal and Gary was lazy so you immediately grasped how the two -- still attracted to one another -- could and would divorce. Both were attempting to get on with their lives as their shared parenting duties (they have a son named Tom and a daughter named Louise) and Allison was engaged to her therapist while Gary was involved with a woman's whose home he'd painted. These lovers are now gone in season two -- apparently for actually adding to the enjoyment of the series. Joining them in the unemployment line is Al Madrigal -- fired as Gary's friend because there's an overabundance of Mexican-Americans on network television?

If you're thinking, "Wait, this second season sounds like a completely different show," how right you are. Like many a dead sitcom not yet taken off life support (Gimme A Break! in it's final year when it relocated onscreen to NYC), no one seems to know what to do with it and it's been in free fall since it lost Ed Yeager and Ric Swartzlander at the end of the first season.

What had been a sparkling, promising and entertaining sitcom quickly descended (via CBS tinkering) into the sort of sitcom that lingers on Fox stinking up the whole network. In retooling The Class, CBS brains always 'knew' the problem must be the women. So that's who got targeted. In 2010, that's still their M.O.

Jaime King being dumped as Gary's first season love interest will be a minor footnote in her long, long career which, many years from now, prompts people to wonder, "What was Gary Unmarried?" As Vanessa, she was funny and she was warm so you knew she was out the door. Season two is all about THOSE BITCHES. And Jaime King's fortunate to be away from this miserable show.

To make Allison one of THOSE BITCHES, the writers have not only made her undesirable, she can't even make a friend. In fact, she's so disgusting that her ex-husband Gary has to get a woman to pretend to be Allison's friend. Paula Marshall deserves better.

Also keening in the kennel is Brooke D'Orsay as Gary's spoiled, bitchy boss Sasha who only has her job because of her father. Jay Mohr's packing at least 15 extra pounds in season two and 'portly' would have been a kind term for him in season one. In season one, the writers -- they had writers then -- grasped that Jay was no sex god and that allowed for classic moments such as when he threw his back out due to repeated sex as he tried to keep up with the sexual drive of a woman over a decade younger than him. D'Orsay's 12 years younger than him and, without writers or the steadying hand of Yeager and Swartzlander, it's taken for granted that Sasha would find him attractive just because he's the one the camera keeps finding.

D'Orsay's playing an insulting role and playing it very badly. It's obvious why she was cast -- not due to talent, but due to looks. Watching her try to walk across a set, it's also obvious why she's had a lengthy career as a voice actress and no accomplishments as a real one: She can't do anything physical in a way that's remotely believable. Since Gary Unmarried airs on CBS TV and not CBS Radio, that's a huge, huge problem.

Did someone say radio?

Gary is a house painter. He has his own business. He and Dennis (Madrigal) made a steady living and were a solid comic team. Dennis is gone and, while painting a radio station, Gary gets a gig as an on air. We believe that's how Rush Limbaugh started -- and certainly longterm exposure to paint fumes would explain Limbaugh's rants.

Yes, folks, the girls just left Milwaukee for Los Angeles. Sasha runs the radio station because . . . her father owns the station. She's an incompetent who can't even stand up to Gary (her latest hire) and we're supposed to find that darling.

The same way we're supposed to find Curtis -- and the actor playing him -- darling. But there's no there there. Instead it's the King of Bland, Keegan-Michael Key. Key's (wrongly) praised for being able to play various races and both genders. We'll agree that he can play those roles, we just don't believe he's ever played one convincingly. There's also something really sad about the show that dumped Madrigal's Dennis to bring on Curtis who is supposed to be African-American (Key's bi-racial). Key was one of the failed performers of Mad TV but he's achieved new infamy here, playing the most neutered Black male character to appear on network TV since Meadowlark Lemon's run on The New Scooby Doo Movies. Translation, Curtis is no Venus Flytrap and Key is no Tim Reid.

In fact, if next week's episode revealed that Curtis was born with a detachable penis he misplaced at a quilting fair, we believe the limited number of people still watching this show would nod along without batting an eye.

Key pulls the show back several decades by playing the "token Black" who exists solely to make the White lead appear 'soulful' and 'with it" and to, like Nathan Lane in the film Frankie & Johnny, root for his friend's romantic life.


In the first season, Mohr managed something resembling a strut, these days it's a waddle. Not only due to the added pounds but also due to the fact that a tight, funny show went the other way. What could have been CBS' new Newhart was retooled into, yes, The Jeff Foxworthy Show and you'd think one stint on that hideous show would have been enough for Mohr. The show has been so dumbed down that it makes The War At Home look like an MTM production.

When the creative team walked after the first season, no one knew from comedy. Comedy became "make the women bitches, nagging bitches." And they beefed up the role of Gary's fat ass brother which took the show into an ugly territory (terrorizing little children is not funny). After all these changes, they were amazed to find audiences cooling to the show.

They thought they had ratings gold and that season two would be about increasing the ratings. Instead season two's found the show coasting on the lead in from The New Adventures of Old Christine and focus groups weighing in on season two showed that the lead character was no longer "likeable." Which is why CBS' will bench Gary in a bit to try Jenna Eflman's Accidentally On Purpose in the slot. See Gary was supposed to be, quoting a CBS exec, "A grower, not a shower." Yes, they really do talk like that and, yes, everything has to do with the male genetalia at CBS. But Gary Unmarried (especially after the fixes) proved unable to grow or, if you prefer, extend. Now the network's singing "Is That All There Is?"
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