For anyone who has been following my Twitter feed (Located both on the sidebar and at the link), you’ll have noticed that I’ve been watching more TV than I’ve been blogging recently. With the television season over, and with the summer shows trickling more than pouring in, I’ve devoted more time watching rather than writing about my favourite pasttime. As of this week, I’m into the fifth season of Six Feet Under, five episodes into The Wire’s first season, and while I enjoying them to varying degrees, there was a serious problem: I was getting a tad bit depressed.
You see, there’s a lot of death and harsh reality in these shows; Six Feet Under is literally a weekly funeral for hope and love, and The Wire is a cold picture of a structurally corrupt organization and the drug trade on the streets of Baltimore. And so, when searching for my next show to catch up on, I decided to go with a killer combination: light-hearted comedy, a recent DVD release, and currently airing weekly episodes.
And thus, along came TBS’ comedy series My Boys. And while I certainly wouldn’t place it in upper echelon of current television comedies, the show is everything I needed: familiar, comfortable, clever and funny enough to overcome some of its less inspired moments.
If it wasn’t for the show completely wearing down my tolerance for the things, I’d open with a baseball analogy here; every single episode of the show’s first season opens with something about a team player, or someone “going pro,” or other such adages. I’m a fan of baseball, but after a while they get a little bit tired.
That’s not to say it doesn’t fit: the central premise of the show is, in fact, a team of people who have many of the same types of issues that we see people on sports teams go through. PJ (Jordana Spiro) is a beat reporter covering the Chicago Cubs, and spends most of her time either playing poker or populating the local drinking establishment with her four male friends and her brother Andy. The titular boys cause her to have to deal with any problems on a team, balancing her own choices with theirs or vice versa. The typical hijinx and roadblocks in terms of love, career and friendship emerge and wreak havoc with PJ’s sense of balance.
The problem is that every single scenario was forced into such a sports analogy. One of my biggest problems with the first season of the show is that it feels like nothing ever actually changes with this core group of people, and that’s never helped by the fact that the exact same tired analogies are trotted out week after week. It kept defining these characters based on a particular mold, which is never a good situation for a situational comedy trying to find its identity.
Watching the first season in a quick burst is extremely telling, as you can watch where Betsy Thomas and the writing staff found ways out of (and then back into) this familiar mold. The two cliffhangers in the season, a moment of romance and the season-ending “Who will PJ take to Italy?” question, are both potential points of disruption that are all but wiped away in order to return to the normalcy in question.
And it would be a much bigger problem if that normalcy wasn’t one of the show’s best assets, a tremendous rapport between the various members of the cast. From the moment their first poker game starts, the “gang” is rolling off one-liners, bantering back and forth, and certainly providing most of the comedy. Sure, one could certainly argue that Mike and Kenny rarely evolve beyond punchlines, but when given their time to shine both actors emerge from the roles with a bounce in their step. The show never asks them to carry roles beyond supporting, but in the show’s most recent episode in Season Two they showed how great that can be.
Bobby and Brendan are two opposites: one just met PJ and entered into the group of friends, and the other has known her since college and is an integral part of the group. They both have the same problem, though, in that they rarely get any time in the central narrative when I think they perhaps should. Brendan, in particular, spends the last half of the season mostly out of the spotlight, and we never really get to see inside his head. The same goes for Bobby, whose romantic entanglement with PJ is one of those lingering things that feels like it needs to be addressed far earlier than it is. But, the two characters serve their purpose: inhabit PJ’s world and make it funnier.
And PJ’s world is funny. Her friend Stephanie (Whose outright hatred of Kenny entertains me every single time for some unknown reason) provides a critical (if mostly illogical) view of her life, her narration provides an inner monologue, but it’s with her boys that we find the most comedy. She’s a denmother, to an extent, and while she isn’t necessary for them to be funny at times I feel that they need to be present for her to be. I don’t say this out of spite to Jordana Spiro, who is almost always charming in the role, but rather that the character is really quite normal outside of her either sparring with or teaming with her male friends.
That it is this bonding that gets in the way of all of her romantic relationships isn’t surprising. PJ goes through a good seven or eight suitors in the season, and needless to say she knocks most of them away like flies due to her complicated life. The men in her life drive away almost all of them, but PJ is complicit; I’m admittedly a sucker for this type of cyclical romantic troubles, and Spiro adds enough quirk to keep them from being too droll in comparison to the witicism of the show’s other parts. The show doesn’t often try to split her personal life from her friends, but when it does it feels wrong and the show knows it, course correcting every single time. It could get old, but the start of the second season shows they are learning some lessons.
One lesson, one learned in the first season, was to make more use of the fantastic Jim Gaffigan, whose Andy is by far the show’s best character. Not only is he often given the funniest lines, but the delivery is always at this great point of sarcasm and knowledge. Starting with his complaints over his controlling wife, followed by his deconstruction of suburban boredom, the character is the only one outside of PJ who is really given a chance to have a life away from this group of friends. The show didn’t seem to know what to do with him at first, but as soon as his birthday hits , our glimpse into his life turns into a narrative of its own. Some of the season’s highlights are episodes that feature his character, and Gaffigan steps up to the plate every time (And that baseball analogy wasn’t on purpose, but it does prove that the show stuck with me).
The show’s second season is off to a slow, but solid, start; the premiere tidied up some of the existing storylines while leaving some doors open, while the second episode really got back into a groove. In particular, I once again found that Andy was given the most to work with as he took on a whole new persona that felt natural and promises much comic potential. But most of all, it’s still fun: it’s a light-hearted show that feels like the perfect cure for the summer blues (or at least the ones caused by ignoring the nice weather and watching people die all the time).
- In one episode in the show’s first season, we meet a doppleganger for Bobby (Kyle Howard, who really matured since his earlier roles) and yet we are never given an explanation for why there is a person who looks exactly like him. It’s an odd note to hit, and we’ve still yet to receive any followthrough – I’m still waiting, writers!
- Extremely weird to see Jeremy Sisto pop up in the series, considering his prominent role on the series I was avoiding by watching this one. The former Six Feet Under star pops up as a former flame at one point, and seeing him in a role where he isn’t insane was, to be frank, kind of odd. It also never seemed like the casting clicked, but that’s just me: other guest stars include Laurie Metcalf, Neil Flynn from Scrubs, and Nicole Sullivan.
- Since it’s a light summer (well, outside of all of the catching up I’m doing plus Emmys coverage), look for reviews of subsequent episodes of the second season in the weeks ahead.