In the US: Wednesdays, 10.30/9.30c, TV Land
TV seems to have a thing against women executives at the moment. To be slightly more accurate, it has a thing against women executives who in some sense ‘desert their friends’ (i.e. spend less time with them) in order to get ahead.
We recently had USA’s Playing House, in which high-flying executive Lennon Parham discovers that despite working hard for a decade, leaving behind in her home town her bestest pal Jessica St Clair to have a normal life, her career is always on a knife-edge, her male bosses don’t really respect her and actually, returning home to spend more time with her family and her friend and getting a less demanding job is more emotionally satisfying, you know? Perhaps that’s even all she really wants.
And now, over on TV Land, we have that network’s first single-camera comedy, in which high-flying executive Jaime Pressly discovers that despite working hard for a decade, leaving behind in her home town her bestest pal Missi Pyle to have a normal life, her career is always on a knife-edge, her male bosses don’t really respect her and actually, returning home to spend more time with her family and her friend and getting a less demanding job is more satisfying, you know? Perhaps that’s even all she really wants.
Cue Cheryl Sandberg to explain how women only feel they (and others) should be allowed to succeed as long as everyone – not just themselves – benefit and they’re not seen as selfish.
The big difference between the two shows? Jennifer Falls has a better cast and is marginally – just marginally – less irritating. Here’s a trailer.
Jennifer Falls, TV Land’s brand new original comedy, revolves around Jennifer Doyle (Jaime Pressly), a former high-powered executive who has fallen and hit every bump on the way down to rock bottom. With her teenage daughter (Dylan Gelula) in tow, Jennifer moves back in with her mother (Jessica Walter) and takes a job in the bar owned by her meek brother (Ethan Suplee) and passive-aggressive sister-in-law (Nora Kirkpatrick) as a last resort. There, she reunites with her former best friend (Missi Pyle) who turns out to be holding quite a grudge. But every cloud has a silver lining: there’s nowhere to go but up.
Is it any good?
As you might expect from TV Land, a network normally for people who get nostalgic for 70s sitcoms, when incidental music told you when a joke was happening, nothing was too unexpected and the punchline for any joke was choreographed a mile off – no joke ever needing more than a one-line lead-in anyway – Jennifer Falls is largely predictable, retrograde stuff. However, this is a sitcom that’s actually aimed at people who get nostalgic for 00s sitcoms and given this is single-camera, there’s a slightly more modern sensibility going on that lifts it ever so slightly above the dross.
Most of the first episode revolves around Pressly learning that she has anger issues and that she has to learn to be a better person. The writers are very much of the ‘punishment rather than rehabilitation’ school of personal development, though, and so pretty much every situation is designed to humiliate, demean and diminish Pressly for the gross crimes of being career-focused and occasionally forthright, until she gets the message that she needs to be humble and have diminished ambitions that largely involve accepting her new minimum wage status, crushed dreams, overbearing mother and the self-sacrifice of single-motherhood.
Whether she’ll ever re-achieve her former status once she’s learned how to be sweet and kind and put herself second or whether she’ll end up running a business more ‘suitable’ for a woman (such as selling cupcakes) remains to be seen. The writers do at least try to suggest they’re aware of the issues, with Pressly pointing out to her ex-bosses that her traits would be perfectly acceptable in a man, highlighting that millions of single mothers have to get by on minimum wages, etc, but that’s largely so they can reinforce the status quo and generally suggest that women should be lucky to have jobs at all and aspiring to more is the preserve of unlikable women – like Pressly.
Casting is good but predictably nostalgia-tastic. Not only are there two members of the My Name is Earl cast front and centre (Pressly and Ethan Suplee), recreating slightly toned down versions of their original roles, we also have Jessica Walter from Arrested Development essentially playing exactly the same role she had in that show, too, and Jeffrey Tambor makes an appearance as Pressly’s boss at the beginning of the episode. Pyle, unfortunately, has had little to do but guilt-trip Pressly and be the butt of lesbian jokes, but hopefully she’ll get to do a lot more in later episodes.
Jokes are frequent and smarter than you might expect, but frequently fall flat. Characters are cookie-cutter sitcom characters, albeit from the generally nicer end of the pile, rather than the CBS collection of personality disorders.
I’m not recommending this to anyone, since it’s largely dreadful and reactionary. But it still could have been a whole lot worse and there are enough acorns sown and enough vestigial intelligence in the script that something more worthwhile might emerge in later episodes. But it’s unlikely ever to be great.