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Review: One Big Happy 1x1 (US: NBC)

Posted on March 18, 2015 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

One Big Happy

In the US: Tuesdays, 9.30/8.30c, NBC

“You’re not a very good lesbian, are you?” Kelly Brook asks Elisha Cuthbert at one point during the first episode of One Big Happy. It is the first of many points in the show's half hour run that surprisingly, Kelly Brook is Very Right. Unfortunately, the sitcom itself is Very Wrong.

Exec produced by Ellen DeGeneres but written by Liz Feldman (Ellen: The Ellen DeGeneres Show, Ellen’s Really Big Show), the show flips the sexes of the usual “straight female with gay best friend” premise of most sitcoms and dramedies by giving us the straight Nick Zano (Happy Endings, 2 Broke Girls, 90210) and the gay Elisha Cuthbert (24, Happy Endings), who have been best friends since high school. Promising each other that if they didn’t have kids by the time they were both 30*, they’d have them together, Plan B seems bang on course, bar the babies, until Zano meets Brook in a bar and they fall head over heels in love. However, she’s about to be deported and despite Brook and Cuthbert hating each other at first sight, after a whirlwind romance, Zano and Brook get married in Las Vegas. Except wouldn’t you know it, Cuthbert is pregnant, which means they’re all going to have to find a way of living together.

The show is a mixture of 50% stereotypes, 50% character comedy. Despite usually being deployed in self-depreciation, the stereotypes are tedious and deployed shotgun-like, almost as though the writer isn’t even sure herself why she’s putting them in there.

Brook, for example, has to deploy the obligatory reference to British teeth, but as she has model-perfect teeth, has to talk about that back tooth of hers that isn’t quite straight.

Similarly, Cuthbert’s black brother-in-law offers her a glass of Chardonnay when she’s upset: “Oh my God, I’m talking like a white woman,” he says. What? Just what?

All I can do is marvel at how far programs for generating comedy scripts have come. They’re almost as funny as quite stupid human beings now.

To be fair, though, in contrast, the character comedy is actually reasonably funny in places. However, despite Cuthbert showing she had surprising comedic chops on Happy Endings, she’s woefully miscast in this as the straight-laced lesbian who wants to paint her house battleship grey, and the model-handsome former MTV presenter Zano doesn’t exactly convince as the nerd who’s writing a science fiction novel about robots. The first five or 10 minutes of the episode, when it’s just Zano and Cuthbert failing utterly to convince as lifelong best friends, also fails utterly to raise even the slightest laugh.

Then along comes Brook as the carefree, live wire Brit Prudence, who spends large portions of the first episode parading naked and pixellated in front of the obviously uninterested Cuthbert. And things get better - not the just the Brook being naked part, obviously, since she’s very good at it.

Now on the face of it, this shouldn’t work on two levels - again not the Brook being naked part.

The first level is that the stereotype-laden Feldman can’t expand her horizons even further than one US state to really understand what ‘carefree live wire’ might mean for an Englishwoman so writes her as Californian. Ancient prophecy has it that were a normal English working class woman to ever unironically suggest to anyone that they would benefit from a colonic irrigation, our blessed isle would instantly sink beneath the waves and descend to Avalon, where faerie folk would proceed to collectively tut at us for our desecration of our heritage and all that we hold sacred and pure. Yet Brook is required to do this very thing. One can only presume that King Arthur is pleading our case to them right now and we don’t have long to reach the lifeboats.

The second is that Brook is a terrible actress. She’s been trying to crack the US market for over a decade now, with appearances in everything from the first season of Smallville and the benighted The (Mis)Adventures of Fiona Plum through to Adult Swim’s NTSF:SD:SUV. The result has been she’s almost never been called back for further appearances, because it’s been clear to everyone that even by American TV standards, hers is a vanishingly small acting talent.

However, most of those jobs have required her to play prim and proper Englishwomen. Here, Brook is able to transcend her thespian vacuum simply by being loud and effusive, instead of buttoned-down. The result is that she’s actually quite engaging and even makes you laugh. It seems the old adage that if an English person speaks to foreigners loudly and slowly they’ll understand you really is true.

The problem for the show is that essentially despite saving it from being an absolute disaster, Brook is the only thing holding it up and she also makes everyone around her look dull and uninteresting. You just don’t care about the fussy Cuthbert, the tongue-tied Zano or any of the thinly drawn supporting characters.

The show’s other big problem is that it's nothing but High Concept. What happens next? They’re all going to live together under one roof, the lifelong friends with a baby, one of whom is gay, and the woman they’ve both known for less than a week? One of them’s uptight, one of them believes in colonic irrigation, one of them is… male - and the two women don’t really like one another.

It’s not much is it, beyond going to the doctors, shopping for baby clothes, etc? Is Brook just going to prance about naked while Cuthbert says the word vagina every so often, when the writers realise they’ve got nothing else to work with?

Obviously, we’ll have to wait to see where things go next to be sure, although since we already have NBC’s The New Normal to act as a less congenial template, we can make a few educated guesses - and they're not that enticing. But I can’t imagine One Big Happy really soaring or striking out into exciting new unpioneered comedic territories. But then this is NBC, which is also giving us a second season of Undateable. It’ll probably be the network’s most popular programme within a month.

Still, not only is it half bearable, it features Kelly Brook occasionally being funny, and it’s only six episodes long, so I doubt there’s going to be many padding episodes. So in all the diversity of the diverse new sitcoms we’re getting, this might be one that you’ll tune in to. Assuming you’ve got some ironing to do or something.

* So about seven and three years ago, respectively

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Third-episode verdict: Marry Me (US: NBC; UK: E4)

Posted on November 3, 2014 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

BarrometerMarryMe.jpgA Barrometer rating of 3

In the US: Tuesdays, 9/8c, NBC
In the UK: Acquired by E4. Will air late 2014/early 2015

Romance is officially dead. Manhattan Love Story was the first of the US Autumn shows to get cancelled, and A To Z has just been given its marching orders, leaving the not-especially-romantic Selfie and NBC’s Marry Me as the last of the potential suitors, forlornly looking around in the hope that their dates are going to show up some time soon.

To be honest, though, I’d be surprised if Marry Me wasn’t stood up soon, too. Based on the real-life meeting and eventual marriage of writer David Caspe and actress Casey Wilson, it runs through the gamut of relationship events that can occur leading up to and following a marriage proposal (episode one), from moving in together (episode two) through to, erm, Halloween (episode three). And with Caspe (Happy Endings) writing and both Wilson and Ken Marino (Party Down) starring, it should be good.

Unfortunately, the most it ever does is make you admire it and occasionally smile wryly. As I said in the first episode, it clearly wants to be the new I Love Lucy, to the extent – it turns out – that Marino and Wilson actually dress up as Arnaz and Ball for Halloween. But really, despite some good writing, it’s never actually very funny. It tries hard to be edgy, to the extent of, say, blurring out the screen and beeping over dialogue to avoid nude and verbal indiscretions. But it’s that knowing edginess and the writers' tendency to take what could be a good short, one-scene joke and then milk it for an entire episode that undermines its efforts.

It’s not without value and it’s enjoyable in its own way. But I’m not sure it’s a keeper.

Barrometer rating: 3
Rob’s prediction: Will last a season but not more than that unless it’s very, very lucky.

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Preview: Benched 1x1 (US: USA)

Posted on October 18, 2014 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Benched

In the US: Tuesdays, 10.30/9.30c, USA. Starts October 28

And lo! It came to pass that the USA Network, the motto of which was “Characters Welcome”, decided that it was going to make comedies. Because if you make hour-long dramas and comedy-dramas, surely half-hour comedies are just as simple, right?

And first it did commission a weak-arse adaptation of Channel 4’s Sirens that still managed to be one of 2014’s best-rated basic cable comedies. And then it did commission Playing House, which made the weak-arse Sirens look like Fawlty Towers.

Then after a mere eight months of thinking about whether it was sure about this whole comedy thing, it did commission a third comedy, Benched, which apparently was enough for USA because although they’re ‘fully committed’ to it (translated: will drop it like a hot potato as soon as possible), there are going to be no more USA comedies for the foreseeable future.

So let’s appropriately enough start shouting “Dead man walking!” as Benched trundles across our screens, waiting for its imminent execution. It’s a shame really, because it stars Eliza Coupe, who after starring in both Scrubs and Happy Endings, would normally be onto better things than her Happy Endings colleague Casey Wilson, yet who has the (slightly) superior Marry Me on NBC. Coupe plays a corporate lawyer who’s first dumped by her fiancé and then overlooked for partner at her firm, prompting an outburst (and demolition) at her firm so strong that she’s not able to work in corporate law any more and is forced to take a job as a public defender. There she meets a motley collection of similarly failed lawyers and demented defendants, and has to do her best to both survive and look after those she’s charged with defending.

And there’s a guy. There’s always a guy.

Coupe does her best and the script does explore areas of the law that most legal shows don’t bother with, ranging from why you should be nice to security guards to the shoddy treatment that the poor get at the hands of the law. But despite all Coupe’s delivery as well as physical comedy skills, the show is woefully unfunny, with a script bereft of any jokes that might cause you do anything more than smile or titter. While the characters are at least more bearable than those in Sirens and have greater maturity than gnats, unlike those in Playing House, a particularly sarcastic judge that Coupe has to deal with is really the only one you’d voluntarily see again, and basing a series on Coupe’s legal wrangles with her ex- as a proxy for their relationship issues doesn’t really make you want to watch more than another one or two episodes tops.

Benched could get better over time, but we’re talking about a pretty poor foundation for everything. And given how little USA apparently wants to stay in the comedy business, I doubt the show will get renewed after its first season unless it gets some very, very good ratings.

So pray for Coupe to get something better, but expect Benched to be benched before the year is out.

Here endeth the lesson, but starteth the trailer. You may titter at it a bit.

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