Monday, May 10, 2021

TV: Another bone headed move from ABC

Where are the comedic stars of today?  In low supply.  It's not that there aren't talented actors who, if given the right push, could become TV staples it's that they're not given the push.  


We were reminded of that while watching ABC's HOME ECONOMICS -- a painful process that we do not recommend for anyone.  Dean Holland is the executive producer and despite a long career that includes working on sixteen sitcoms, he's never worked on a series that was actually a hit and delivered viewers.  14 years and still drilling dry wells, do we really see that changing?

HOME ECONOMICS focuses on three siblings.  Tom is the oldest.  He writes books -- or rather, fleeting thoughts which is about all anyone could ever expect from him.  The middle grown child is Sarah and she is a child therapist.  Which leaves the baby of the bunch Connor who somehow manages to be a financial savant.  

If you don't believe that sounds like an impressive spine for a sitcom, we hear you.  But funny shows have resulted from far worse.  So what's the problem?

Topher Grace plays the oldest child Tom.  Many years ago, he starred as Eric Foreman on THAT 70'S SHOW.  That FOX hit is one of the few shows of its time that no one ever talks of revisiting.  For a reference, it aired its final new episode the same week the original run of WILL & GRACE ended.  That show has far too many problems to be reworked.  The death of Tanya Roberts is actually the least of the problems.  Danny Masterson's arrest last year on three charges of rape is a bigger issue.  But the biggest issue is probably the format.  FOX has spent the last few years with one failing sitcom after another -- when they are single-cam sitcoms.  When they are multi-cams they deliver an audience for the network -- compare the ratings of LAST MAN STANDING, CALL ME KAT and THE COOL KIDS  to, for example, the ratings of the single-cam sitcom THE MICK.


Topher Grace is not the problem in terms of acting.  He's the problem in that he makes you think about a funny sitcom.  And HOME ECONOMICS could have been that if it had been a multi-cam.


Why do they all think they can do better than Desi Arnaz did?  When The Water Cooler Set goes out of their way to attack the multi-cam sitcom before a live studio audience format, do they do it with so much zeal because a Latino came up with the format?  


In the 50s and 60s, there were tons and tons of sitcoms aren't remembered today.  Those that are tend to be the multi-cam before a live audience sitcoms: I LOVE LUCY, THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW,  THE GEORGE BURNS AND GRACIE ALLEN SHOW, THE HONEYMOONERS, etc.  This continued in the 70s and 80s with the offerings of MTM (THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW, NEWHART, WKRP IN CINCINNATI, RHODA, etc), Norman Lear (THE JEFFERSONS, GOOD TIMES, MAUDE, ALL IN THE FAMILY, ONE DAY AT A TIME, SANFORD & SON, NEWHART, etc), Gary Marshall (LAVERNE & SHIRLEY, MORK & MINDY, HAPPY DAYS, etc), FAMILY TIES, ROSEANNE, THE FACTS OF LIFE, GIMMIE A BREAK, MURPHY BROWN, BOSOM BUDDIES, THREE'S COMPANY, etc.  The 90s would add THE NANNY, WILL & GRACE, LIVING SINGLE, FRIENDS, SEINFELD, MAD ABOUT YOU, etc.  In the years since, the sitcoms that delivered big audiences?  They were multi-cams like EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND, THE BIG BANG THEORY, TWO AND A HALF MEN, etc.


Topher starred in one of the better multi-cams and watching him on HOME ECONOMICS just reminds you of how bad the new show is.  He's struggling in scenes not because he's not delivering but because he's often acting against a wall passed off as co-stars. 


To be fair, we'll blame the format and not the actors.  With a live studio audience, they would have immediate response and feedback and be able to figure out what was working (damn little) and what wasn't working (way too much).

Jimmy Tatro comes off the best after Topher.  Tatro is playing Connor who is basically himbo Bill that Tatro played on MODERN FAMILY for six episodes.  The himbo should be a staple of sitcoms especially after Oliver Hudson's perfection of the role on RULES OF ENGAGEMENT.  Oliver went on to star in the drama NASHVILLE and deliver a strong performance but then he returned to sitcoms with SPLITTING UP TOGETHER which should have featured Oliver in a riff on the himbo but no one involved with the show knew what they were doing -- which also explains Oliver's appearance.  You don't cast someone that good looking in the role and then try to regular-guy him up.  It won't work.  And it didn't.  It's a lesson Tatro would do well to learn especially since his most memorable moment on TV thus far has been the episode of MODERN FAMILY where he drops his pants in front of Claire.

Caitlin McGee plays the middle child Sarah.  She would strongly benefit from a studio audience.  Her grip on the role is loose and tentative.  By contrast, Sasheer Zamata, is all over the place.  She plays Sarah's wife Denise.  She serves the joke.  In any scene, she is all about wringing the humor out of any line or action but it's at the expense of developing a character.  We're not blaming them for any of this.  But we are noting that it shouldn't be this way.

And it didn't have to be.  If ABC had grasped that their strongest rated sitcom was a multi-cam one, they would have dictated that HOME ECONOMICS by one as well.  The network's ignorance has doomed yet another sitcom.


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