News Column

His and hers sitcoms

September 15, 2013

YellowBrix

Sept. 15--You have to go co-ed these days.

This fall's bloated freshman class of network sitcoms won't all make it through football season. Despite titles like "Dads," "Mom" and "We Are Men," they'd better appeal to both men and women to survive. With more funny options on cable and online, network comedies can't afford to turn anyone away at the door.

We tested six new shows' crossover appeal, letting David judge the pilots showcasing women's stories while Sara assessed those with manly marketing.

'Dads'

It's not that "Dads" is another excuse for the "Family Guy" guys to score giggles with pot brownies and jaw-dropping racism. What makes the show so unacceptable isn't Giovanni Ribisi and Seth Green whining through piles of predictable dude-bro one-liners.

It is and they do, but the worst thing about "Dads" is watching Martin Mull and Peter Rieger go to waste as the elder generation that moves in, though they do provide the few chuckles in the first two episodes. What would a show be like with Colonel Mustard from "Clue" and Boone from "Animal House"? It would be better than "Dads," which makes Mull interrupt a business meeting to scream "There's a reason Shanghai is a verb!" Premieres Tuesday. -- S.S.

'Brooklyn Nine-Nine'

A very silly NYPD precinct is the setting for a quirky ensemble comedy from the makers of 2012's "21 Jump Street" movie. Detectives named Scully and Hitchcock excel at coffee-making, and the new captain is an extra-droll Andre Braugher, legendary for catching the Disco Strangler back in the '70s. He just wants his team to wear ties and ease off on the manscaping.

He gets resistance from the squad's star detective, played by "SNL's" Andy Samberg, channeling the clownish vibes of "Beverly Hills Cop" and "Scrubs" with hilarious results. His partner is Melissa Fumero, who was Headband Girl on "New Girl." Here, she's more Joe Friday than Girl Friday. "Brooklyn Nine-Nine" establishes its identity immediately and gets funnier from there. Premieres Tuesday. -- S.S.

'Mom'

There are two kinds of people in this world: Those who enjoy Chuck Lorre comedies ("Two and a Half Men," "The Big Bang Theory") and those who avoid them as if they were Charlie Sheen. "Mom," starring Anna Faris as a late-30s single mother of two, is nestled securely in the Lorre-verse -- "Two and a Half Men" star Jon Cryer even cameos gratuitously in the pilot.

Those inclined to reach for the remote at the first yucky yuk, however, should stick around for what could become the most realistic dysfunctional-family sitcom since "Roseanne." Faris' Christy comes clean as a recovering alcoholic trying to break the cycle of ineffective parenting she observed growing up with her own mom (Allison Janney), now two years sober.

Unlike Lorre's other efforts, characters in "Mom" seem to really have something to lose. And despite initially playing Christy as more caricature than character, Faris heads a good cast, including Nathan Corddry as Christy's philandering boss, Spencer Daniels as her daughter's numbskull shirtless boyfriend, and French Stewart as a droll take on Gordon Ramsay. Premieres Sept. 23. -- D.F.

'The Crazy Ones'

Take AMC's "Mad Men," hire an Oscar winner to play the male lead, age the daughter 20 years, eliminate the misogyny, set it in the advertising world of the 21st century and what do you have?

The perfect vehicle to sneak product placement past DVR watchers.

What? Too cynical?

David E. Kelly's "The Crazy Ones" certainly plays like Don Draper lite, with Robin Williams as the patriarch at an ad firm who is partnered with his high-strung daughter, played by Sarah Michelle Gellar. A little bit of Williams goes a long ways, and his rapid-fire character shtick doesn't always stick. But when he pitches the feeling of family to McDonald's execs looking for a new marketing direction, he nails it. "You know how I feel right now?" he says. "Like a guy who's going to sell (a wagon load) of hamburgers and some reasonably sized soft drinks."

The show will work best if it can humanize Gellar and make Williams more of a supporting player. But most welcome is the return to TV of James Wolk, who plays the staff seducer. Wolk starred in Fox's extremely short-lived "Lone Star" and, of course, "Mad Men." Premieres Sept. 26. -- D.F.

'The Michael J. Fox Show' -- 8:30 p.m. Thursdays, NBC

Michael J. Fox, an actor who suffers from Parkinson's disease, playing Mike Henry, an anchorman who suffers from Parkinson's disease, feels just a little too on the nose. Especially when Mike's daughter puts together a maudlin video about her heroic dad and his day-to-day struggles (her teacher rightly gives her an F).

But that plot line epitomizes what the show does spectacularly well -- reminding us that people suffering from health issues and disabilities are human beings. Sometimes they're heroic, and sometimes -- like anyone else -- they're a pain in the posterior. The retired Mike drives his family crazy because he wants to make every moment count. And when Mike struggles at the breakfast table to scoop up some scrambled eggs, his wife, Annie (Betsy Brandt of "Breaking Bad"), grabs the serving spoon and says, "Can you not have a personal victory right now? We are starving."

With the exception of Wendell Pierce (Bunk from "The Wire") as Mike's boss, the cast is somewhat bland. But while the pilot drags in spots, the show is worth a look simply for its originality. Premieres Sept. 26. -- D.F.

'We Are Men'

This mediocre bromance begins with newcomer Chris Smith, who also narrates, being jilted at the altar in an homage to "The Graduate." He ends up in a short-term rental complex, an ego-rehab for the recently single. Kal Penn, Jerry O'Connell and Tony Shalhoub, recovering from various strains of nasty divorce, take him into their hot-tub circle of bitter wisdom.

It's a great cast, with "Frasier" and "How I Met Your Mother" alums producing. Maybe they're hoping the gratuitous shots of O'Connell at the pool will make women forget how they're depicted: greedy lawyers in power suits, dream-killing manipulators in wedding dresses, faceless furniture in bikinis. As a result, half the people on screen aren't funny or interesting. Premieres Sept. 30. -- S.S.

'Welcome to the Family'

Mike O'Malley and Mary McCormack play white suburban parents looking forward to their new life as empty-nesters as their daughter graduates high school by the skin of her teeth. Says O'Malley as patriarch Dan: "She's Arizona State's problem now."

But the real problem? She's pregnant by a boyfriend who is her opposite in every way. He's the overachieving son of immigrants; she's an airhead prone to malapropisms. And as much as they adore each other, their fathers loathe each other.

"Welcome to the Family," with difficult themes of love, aging, race, class and ethnicity, is easy to root for, though it defies easy explanation. Think a mix of ABC's "Modern Family" and NBC's "Parenthood." Ricardo Chavira of "Desperate Housewives" and Justina Machado of "Six Feet Under" also star. Premieres Oct. 3. -- D.F.

More new sitcoms

ABC's "Last Man Standing" returns Friday at 7, but the networks just keep offering more half-hour comedies to compete with it.

'The Goldbergs'

Creator Seth Gordon, director of "Horrible Bosses" and "Four Christmases," re-creates his home movies from the 1980s, with the help of Jeff Garlin, George Segal and Wendi McLendon-Covey. The clothes alone will make you laugh. Premieres at 8 p.m. Sept. 24 on ABC.

'Trophy Wife'

Bradley Whitford and Malin Akerman's unexpected marriage stirs up his suspicious extended family -- it's his third wedding. An extended cast of relatives with quirky dynamics worked for ABC on "Modern Family," so it might work again. Premieres at 8:30 p.m. Sept. 24 on ABC.

'Back in the Game'

James Caan is a retired pro baseball player who lets daughter Maggie Lawson move back in with her son after her marriage blows up. We thought kids were moving back in because of the economy. Maggie Lawson is funny on "Psych," and Caan was funny on "Las Vegas," but the premise is a little tired. Premieres at 7:30 Sept. 25 on ABC.

'The Millers'

Yet another family-moving-back-in theme, with newly divorced Will Arnett opening the door to his mom, who's just been dumped by Beau Bridges. Margo Martindale left behind an Emmy-nominated role in FX's "The Americans" for this show, so here's hoping there's more to it than the bathroom humor in the pilot. Premieres at 7:30 Oct. 3 on CBS.

Sara Smith, The Star To reach Sara Smith, call 816-234-4375 or email ssmith@kcstar.com. To reach David Frese, call 816-234-4463 or email dfrese@kcstar.com.

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