Sunday, September 30, 2012

Pilot Reviews: Elementary & Made in Jersey


Elementary (Thursdays at 10:00 on CBS)

I haven't watched any of the BBC show Sherlock, nor have I ever read any of Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories, so I don't share in the outrage of many hardcore fans of updating the beloved character in the new series Elementary. I'm sure part of the anger comes from the fact that any Holmes fan can (and will) tell you that the famous detective never actually uttered the line which has become synonymous with him and which inspires the title of this show: "Elementary, my dear Watson." But none of that really matters, because Elementary is a good time, with or without the ties to Holmes.

In this version of the Sherlock story, Holmes (Jonny Lee Miller, Eli Stone) is a recovering addict. His wealthy father has hired Joan Watson (Lucy Liu, Ally McBeal) to be his "companion," walking him through his daily routine to make sure he's on the right path to full recovery. Holmes works as a consultant to the NYPD, specifically Captain Gregson (Aidan Quinn, Prime Suspect), using his powers of deduction to solve murders.

Everything about Elementary fits very easily into CBS's procedural machine. It's a close cousin of The Mentalist (even airing in its old timeslot), although with slightly slicker production values and a more interesting leading man. In terms of its handling of the Sherlock Holmes material, I like this revision. Making Watson a woman is clever, if not exactly far-fetched considering how effeminate the original always was; but with a woman in the role, there's no longer the need to shy away from the homoerotic undertones of the Holmes-Watson relationship. The backstory they've given Watson isn't exactly groundbreaking, and neither is the mysterious past of Holmes. The script from first-time creator Robert Doherty (Medium) is adequate, though there's not much effort made to establish a plot; instead there is a crime for Holmes to solve (and it's actually a fairly interesting one, if unnecessarily complicated) and there is the relationship with Watson to build. They are the supreme focus of the pilot.

The performances are universally strong, especially from Miller. He's magnetic and charismatic, the perfect blend of charm and damage for this incarnation of Holmes. Liu is fine as Watson, but it is her chemistry with Miller that makes her character work so well. Quinn was hardly a presence in the pilot, unfortunately, but now that the Holmes-Watson dynamic has been established, other characters can come into play more. The direction by Michael Cuesta (Homeland) is stylish and witty if a bit manic at times. But all in all, Elementary is well worth the watch. It's a procedural, for sure, but one with a bit more visual flair and mental stimulation than others on CBS. Plus it's always fun to return to familiar characters, even when they're doing the same old thing.


Made in Jersey (Fridays at 9:00 on CBS)

Less successful on the whole is the new Friday night drama Made in Jersey, which is definitely in the running for "Worst Title of a New Show" (It was originally known as Baby Big Shot, which is terrible in its own right but not nearly as bad as its current title. Personally, I'd name it after another line from the pilot: Fancy Lawyer Lady.) It's about Martina Garretti, an up-and-coming lawyer from New Jersey who is trying to prove herself at her new firm in Manhattan. When she speaks up at a meeting, she lands her first case: proving the innocence of a teenager accused of murdering her professor.

The concept and execution is almost a total failure. The way Martina goes about the case is in no way believable; you'd think everyone around her drags their knuckles and eats flies from each other's hair, that's how incompetent they all seem. But Martina is always there to save the day and do all the work the police should have done. But apparently Martina is superwoman, so who needs police? The script also makes it seem like she knows every word of the law, more so than any of her superiors, and she's thrown into court at the last second because of this; yeah, she's that good... Creator Dana Calvo (Greek, Franklin & Bash) has fashioned a show that is not at all original, either. It's equal parts Working Girl, Legally Blonde, Erin Brockovich, and My Cousin Vinny, except it's not as good or as tongue-in-cheek as any of these.

Made in Jersey is successful on only one level, and that's in the enjoyability factor brought to the show by its leading lady Janet Montgomery (Entourage). She's very winning, a total charmer from beginning to end, despite how stupid everything going on around her is. Stephanie March (Law & Order: SVU) is playing a caricature of every bitch lawyer ever; Kyle MacLachlan is wasted, though when he's present it's as if he forgets he's on camera. Martina and her family all have that ridiculous, nonexistent-in-real-life Jersey accent, and they spend the majority of the episode in a hair salon, yelling... in other words, it's every stereotype of New Jersey in one character, from her lousy accent to her trashy wardrobe (By the way, can everyone in California figure out that New Jersey is a state, not a city? Saying someone is from "New Jersey" doesn't explain everything away, there are a lot of places in the state.)

But still, Montgomery makes the thing somehow watchable, if not wholly enjoyable or relatable. It's light, fluffy, totally mindless Friday night entertainment.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Pilot Review: The Neighbors


The Neighbors (Wednesdays at 8:30 on ABC)

Okay, this might come as a shock based on how terrible the previews were and how unbelievably off-putting the official ABC series description is, but The Neighbors isn't totally awful. I know, I'm ashamed of myself for saying that, but it's true. The Neighbors isn't the worst show of the year; it's not even the worst sitcom of the year. Yes, it's truly stupid and silly and ridiculous and did I mention stupid? But it's not terrible... actually, it's kind of enjoyable on some level.

Marty (Lenny Venito, The Sopranos) has decided to relocate his family from the city to the suburbs in an exclusive gated community... without consulting his wife, Debbie (Jami Gertz, Still Standing), first. There's a rift immediately, but it's soon forgotten when the family meets their new neighbors. They are all named after famous athletes, stand in pyramid formation at all times, and do not eat food ("We receive nourishment through our eyes and mind rather than through our mouths"). First on the scene is leader Larry Bird (Simon Templeman, Charmed) and his wife Jackie Joyner-Kersee (Toks Olagundoye). They invite the Weaver family over for dinner, where their son Dick Butkus (Ian Patrick), "exposes" himself to the Weaver children, revealing the community as a group of aliens sent to Earth to determine if its climate is livable. That was ten years ago, and the device with which they communicate with their home planet is in need of recharging. Unfortunately the only way to do so is to sacrifice the youngest member of the community, which would be Dick Butkus.

On no level would I ever consider The Neighbors a smart comedy. It's absolutely stupid, but that's kind of why it's enjoyable, to a point. It's totally harmless. It doesn't want to engage too much of your mind, it doesn't want to offend any sensibilities, and it doesn't want to do anything but make you laugh at how dumb it is. And it succeeds in that department, because it's really dumb. But they got me sometimes. I couldn't help but laugh at the alien family comprised of a white father, black mother, Asian child and redheaded child. I did giggle at the names and some of the silly repartee, like their explanation for adopting British accents. The quirks of their alien nature are less amusing, from crying green goo out of their ears to sleeping in pods, but there's something really human at the bottom of it all.

I wouldn't go so far as to consider The Neighbors satire; I don't think it's smart enough for that. But it does have something to say about how we relate to people. No matter how seemingly enormous the difference between people (race, sexuality, religion, culture, etc.), we have a lot in common. Marty relates to Larry Bird (I'm sorry, I just giggled typing that, it's just so ridiculous) and his struggle to maintain order in his family; Jackie Joyner-Kersee (and again!) and Debbie can relate to trying to claim their voice in marriages where their partners do not always respect them. The Neighbors goes to extreme, silly lengths to show that, but Disney creator/writer/director Dan Fogelman (Tangled, Cars) has experience balancing adult and youngster humor. It's not always successful, sometimes coming across as a live-action Saturday morning cartoon, but it's an admirable effort considering how childish the whole concept is.

Despite all that, the episode itself isn't exactly good. It's a poor man's less-intelligent 3rd Rock from the Sun, more like My Favorite Martian, and it isn't a very attractive half-hour. The aliens in their native appearance look sort-of claymated, and the effects are pretty cheesy. And the score is so awful, loud and obnoxious that it made me dread any scene changes. The performances are expectedly broad, though the two human adults fare best. Jami Gertz is playing the same character she played on Standing Still, and Lenny Venito is playing a stereotypical Jersey Italian. But they're both actually funny, and they don't have the burden of doing extremely stupid alien things the way the others do.

I'm not saying that I recommend The Neighbors. It's definitely stupid, but it's not as heinous as I had anticipated. It's a decent show to watch as a family, especially if your kids are young since there's not a single offensive thing happening and the only adult joke will totally escape them ("I fear our little Dick has exposed himself again"). But it's not good.... it's also not the worst sitcom you could be watching on Wednesday nights.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Pilot Review: Vegas


Vegas (Tuesdays at 10:00 on CBS)

Seriously, CBS? You can't just let a show tell a story? I wasn't aware that the pilot of Vegas, a show about as bland as its snooze-worthy title suggests, was setting up yet another police procedural at The Eye. Early word focused solely on the larger premise but failed to mention its crime-of-the-week element. So instead of a period drama about Las Vegas politics, we're getting a standard cop show with a Western flare.

Vegas fictionalizes the life of Sheriff Ralph Lamb (Dennis Quaid) as he goes head-to-head with mobsters on The Strip in the 1960s. Lamb is a simple cattle rancher who just wants the planes from the airport to stop scaring his animals, so he agrees to return to his detective days to find the murderer of the governor's niece. And he gets the planes to stop flying over as payment. Speaking of, the latest plane is carrying Vincent Savino (Michael Chiklis), a mobster looking to make it big in the desert. Unfortunately for him, all signs of the murder point to his casino.

The throughline of Vegas doesn't make very much sense to me. Lamb is nothing more than a cattle rancher, yet he is hired to help find a murderer and given a phony title in case people ask questions (since he, you know, doesn't have police ID or anything). So he immediately hires his brother Jake (Jason O'Mara, Terra Nova) as a deputy to follow him around and carry giant rifles, but also to deal with people since Ralph isn't too good at that stuff. Say what? It's a jarring mix of lawlessness and law enforcement, a mix that doesn't always blend well. Where is the line drawn? Ralph can break into Savino's casino and lock lawyers in jail cells but be above the law... as he's trying to bring down mobsters who are also breaking laws. I don't understand it much, but perhaps I just wasn't playing close enough attention.

It was easy for my mind to wander during this pilot. The desert landscapes are gorgeous, but they're also lazy. There are only so many scenes of Dennis Quaid on horseback I can take, though there's one in particular that's pretty great as Lamb out rides a motorcyclist and ropes him in. But there's something about a twangy country score, the show's slow (and I mean slow) pace, and a lack of an interesting crime that just made me want to change the channel or crawl into bed. The script from creators Nicholas Pileggi (Goodfellas) and Greg Walker (Without a Trace) is decent enough in its structure and setup, but it just isn't much fun. The murder is dull, and so is the process Lamb goes through to solve it. The only truly interesting parts of the pilot are when Lamb and Savino are face to face; Quaid and Chiklis are both powerful actors, and their chemistry is wonderful in these short moments.

Unfortunately, neither fares very well without the other, especially Quaid. He does little more than scowl and frown really hard, like a petulant child who is refused ice cream. He's all hard lines, no personality. Chiklis gets a little too melodramatic in his first scene, and he plays a little safe the remainder of the episode. Carrie-Anne Moss (The Matrix) is simply window-dressing, the only hint of estrogen on display in all of the pilot as the ADA of Las Vegas. O'Mara's character is forgettable and unnecessary. Film director James Mangold (Walk the Line, 3:10 to Yuma) lets things move at a pace more appropriate for a movie, and it gets a bit tedious. The use of green screen is also one of the most distracting I've seen recently, probably since the boat scene in last year's pilot for Ringer (incidentally, that was also orginally a CBS pilot). It's a rather boring hour of television that not even two big actors could make totally work. Not enough really happens, and I can't imagine Vegas getting much better down the line considering it's already designed as a procedural. Definitely one of the bigger disappointments so far this season.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Pilot Review: Partners


Partners (Mondays at 8:30 on CBS)

I know I said here before that I couldn't wait for the return of David Kohan and Max Mutchnick, creators of Will & Grace, with their new sitcom Partners. And I really was anxious to see it, to get back into the swing of things with these two guys who wrote some of the funniest quips I've ever heard anywhere. But it is with a heavy heart that I must admit that Partners is just not good.

The show follows childhood friends Joe (David Krumholtz, Numbers) and Louis (Michael Urie, Ugly Betty) when they grow up to be partners in an architectural firm. Joe is contemplating breaking things off with Ali (Sophia Bush, One Tree Hill), while Louis is in a relatively new relationship with nurse Wyatt (Brandon Routh, Superman Returns). Things get complicated when Joe actually ends up proposing to Ali and Louis blurts out his previous intentions of ending their tenure.

The characterization here is so lazy that it's almost not worth talking about, but it's also the central problem of the show. Louis is is so obviously gay that it's borderline offensive. He's a reincarnation of Jack MacFarland, only without the manic energy and obvious caricature Sean Hayes brought to that role; Urie is fine, if a bit over-the-top (I couldn't help but wonder if Louis would be more tolerable if Urie toned down his LOOKATHOWGAYIAM performance), but he's no Sean Hayes. But I know it's not entirely Urie's fault, because Louis is just an amalgamation of every gay stereotype, as well as a pathological liar and a sociopath. He leaves all the firm's work to Joe, all while spewing jokes about Bette Midler and Clay Aiken. He goes around telling everyone that he's dating a Jewish doctor, even though Wyatt is a Mennonite and a nurse. He nearly ruins his best friend's relationship but manages to turn the whole thing around so that it's not about Joe at all, but about himself. How anyone could put up with Louis for as long as Joe has is a complete mystery. Sure, the writers try to argue it away by adding the line, "I've never met anyone who loves as much as Louis." But when that love is hidden behind constant narcissism and a blatant disregard for anyone else's feelings, is it really worth the trouble?

The other characters look like cardboard cutouts next to Louis. Krumholtz is downright wooden as Joe, and everytime he opened his mouth to spout some Yiddish term (schmuck, schmeckle, blah blah) I couldn't help but be reminded of his performance in Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle... the difference being, this time he's not playing a stoner, so the blandness isn't appropriate. It doesn't help that Joe takes the backseat to Louis in every aspect of their relationship, so there's not much for him to do while Urie is hogging the spotlight. But in the end, Joe is a reinvention of Will Truman, except he's not gay. But Krumholtz does not have Eric McCormack's bite, and Joe isn't nearly as funny a character as Will. Routh is utterly forgettable as Louis's boyfriend. Sophia Bush is the only actor who finds a happy medium between Urie's loud performance and Krumhotlz's subdued one. She doesn't get any particularly funny moments, but she's the only one who has any chemistry with anyone else on screen. I buy her relationship with Krumholtz more than I do the relationship between Krumhotlz and Urie, and Bush also works well with the latter. I can see her coming up to the level that Debra Messing eventually reached as Grace Adler; Ali is already being set up to be the Grace of Partners, just with a more sexual relationship with her Will in Joe.

Which brings me to the point: Partners could never live up to the greatness of Will & Grace, but with a concept and characters so similar, they seem to be trying. Perhaps because this story is so close to Kohan & Mutchnick (the relationship of Joe and Louis is based on their own), they just couldn't distance themselves enough to truly find the funny in it; so instead, they tried to redo what they had done before, but to nowhere near the same level of success.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Pilot Review: Last Resort




Last Resort (Thursdays at 8:00 on ABC; Premieres September 27)
 
Last Resort is the first pilot of the season that I'm really in love with. It's smart but not esoteric, complex but not confusing, political but not preachy. It's a wonderful display of talent both on and off screen, and it's a really compelling hour of TV that plays like a combination of Crimson Tide and Heart of Darkness.

The throughline concerns the crew of the fictional USS Colorado, a nuke-toting submarine somewhere in the Indian Ocean. The crew is led by Captain Chaplin (Andre Braugher, Men of a Certain Age) and his First Officer Sam Kendal (Scott Speedman, Felicity). The sub receives an order to launch nuclear missiles at Pakistan through a secondary communication system designed only to be used when the one in Washington, D.C. is down (AKA annihilated). Chaplin has heard nothing of any attacks on the nation's capital, so he asks for confirmation of the order; he is immediately relieved of his duty as Captain for not following the order. When Kendal takes over and again refuses the order without further confirmation, the sub is fired upon... by their own people, an American battleship. The Colorado crew repairs the sub, but not before losing crew members in the attack. Back in the United States, news programs are reporting the attack came from the Pakistani army, igniting a war between the nations. But the Colorado soon lands on the fictional island of Sainte Marina, where they commandeer a NATO communications facility and declare a 200-mile exclusion zone around the island. America sends another group of bombers to attack Chaplin and his crew, and Chaplin retaliates by launching a nuke at D.C....

The scope of Last Resort is extraordinary. The cast alone is enormous, with over a dozen speaking roles, all of them perfectly defined in the pilot. It's a true achievement to have a show that easily characterizes so many people without devolving into types. Everyone has import here, and characters that seem to be set decoration early on end up playing significant roles later in the episode. No one is extraneous, no one is wasted. That alone is a credit to creators Shawn Ryan (The Shield) and Karl Gajdusek (Dead Like Me), though there is much to celebrate in their expert script. The concept could easily be dismissed as, "Well what happens next?" There's a lot going on in the pilot, and the whole idea seems better suited to film than episodic television. After all, where do you go after you've launched a nuke at the center of American government? But the final few minutes provide a great setup for the remainder of the series, expanding the cast even further to include several locals of Sainte Marina.

Speaking of which, it's incredible to me how director Martin Campbell (Casino Royale) managed to make the scenes within the confines of the submarine the most successful. I would have thought these scenes would feel claustrophobic and stilted, but they're the most enjoyable of the episode. It's when the story wander outside the sub, to the island and to D.C., that it loses something. The tension within the sub is what drives the intensity of Last Resort, plus the strong performances from the cast. The crew of the Colorado is played to perfection by everyone involved, most notably Braugher and Speedman. The former is in total command of the show, delivering his final monologue with gusto. Speedman is sympathetic, the obvious hero, and an endearing presence. They are supported by a host of strong actors including Robert Patrick (who will always be the villain from Terminator 2 to me) as the disrespectful and blindly devoted military baby Chief of Boat; Daisy Betts (Persons Unknown) as the ship's lieutenant, a woman trying to prove herself in a man's world; and Bruce Davison as her father, a Navy Admiral.

With the end of the episode, the possibilities for future episodes is wide open. The only downfall is that the sub, where the pilot's best moments take place, will play a lesser role now that the crew has set up post on the island. But the potential storylines and character developments are intriguing enough to think that this will be a small obstacle to overcome, considering the strength of all Last Resort's other elements. This is one to watch closely.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Pilot Review: The Mob Doctor


The Mob Doctor (Mondays at 9:00 on Fox)

Let me start by saying that the above image is better than anything in the first episode of Fox's mind-numbing new series The Mob Doctor.

The plot is exactly what the title suggests: half mob show, half medical show. Grace Devlin (Jordana Spiro, My Boys) is a hotshot surgeon in Chicago who overcame meager beginnings in the city slums to become one of her hospital's most sought-after doctors. Her mother (Wendy Makkena, Oliver Beene) is in remission, her brother (Jesse Lee Soffer) is a compulsive gambler, and her father figure is a notorious mob boss recently released from prison on parole, Constantine Alexander (William Forsythe, Boardwalk Empire). Years ago she made a deal with a mafioso named Moretti (Michael Rappaport, Boston Public) to work off her brother's gambling debts in exchange for his life; now that agreement has come back to bite her in the ass when Moretti demands she kill a patient who is testifying against him.

Aside from how utterly ridiculous the whole plot is, the execution is something to marvel: it's constantly moving, yet it never goes anywhere. How this is even possible is beyond me, but somehow creators Josh Berman & Rob Wright (Drop Dead Diva) have managed. There must be upwards of fifty scenes in forty-five minutes; Grace is always dashing from one location to the next, answering phone calls and darting off screen: hospital to home to hospital to mob house to hospital to chop shop to home to hospital to OH MY GOD, TAKE A NAP ALREADY, YOU'VE SUPPOSEDLY BEEN AWAKE FOR 36 HOURS NOW! But seriously, so much happens in so little time... yet I felt like the episode was never going to end. There are tons of subplots that go nowhere (and make no sense), including a young gunshot victim's recovery and the playing out of hospital politics. How Grace doesn't just collapse at any given moment is miraculous. She performs two surgeries in the pilot, one of which is under the scrutiny of the FBI, plus she makes house calls to Constantine, all while balancing her delicate familial relationships and a new romance with a fellow doctor (Zach Gilford, Off the Map). Is Grace supposed to be a superhero or something? I'm pretty sure even Superman sleeps.

There are so many things wrong with The Mob Doctor that it's almost too much to try and point them all out; I could just say, "Watch the episode" and call it a day. But I don't want to subject any of you to that. The script is the first and foremost issue. Well, the unbelievable and bloated plot is the foremost issue, but anyway... the script is terrible. At one point, in one of the myriad subplots, a girl Grace used to babysit has come into the hospital for surgery; the fourteen year old finds out she's pregnant despite being a virgin, so Grace compares her immaculate conception to Star Wars: "You remember that scene where Luke pops that one-in-a-million shot, and it goes straight through the air duct and blows up the entire Death Star?... You are like the Death Star. You have this air duct that has the potential to be penetrated, even if you're not doing it full-on... it's called outercourse." Now, just stop for a second and reread that statement. This is an actual line of dialogue from a script that actually got made and then ordered to series. Let that sink in. Add in barely discernible, over-the-top sequences of nonstop medical jargon; a scene where one doctor accuses another of tattling; horrible bookend scenes about Grace touching her first body; and a car chase through the streets of Chicago, and you have one big "WTF" of a script to work with.

On top of the truly awful, none of the actors are any good. Jordana Spiro is almost entirely lifeless as Grace, blank-faced and even-voiced throughout. Her family is portrayed as a bunch of bumbling idiots by Makenna and Soffer, and Forsythe does little more than curl his lips into a snarl in his two scenes. David Pasquesi plays a caricature of every douchebag boss ever, spitting out such gems as "This isn't over!" in between scenes of utter pomposity. Even Zeljko Ivanek, a scene stealer on Damages, looks bored. But by far the most ridiculous performance comes from Rappaport, who is so melodramatic that his portrayal of Moretti often crosses the line into self-parody. He yells, spits into cell phones, and wags his finger in everyone's face... because he's, you know, in charge. How else would anyone know that? It's as if everyone on board was just collecting a paycheck, knowing full well how awful the concept and material is, and not expecting much to come of it.

If that's the case, they're the smart ones here. The Mob Doctor never should have seen the light of day. It's the type of show that gives merit to a saying I heard recently: "Theatre is life, movies are art, television is furniture." Because this is mindless, horrible, and embarassing.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Checking In: Glee Season Four Premiere


Glee (Thursdays at 9:00 on Fox)

First of all, let's take a look at the above photo. LOOK HOW MANY CAST MEMBERS THIS SHOW HAS! It's overcrowded and has been for the past couple of seasons, thanks in no small part to the introduction of winners/runners-up from The Glee Project, but this is just ridiculous. And it doesn't even feature all of the recurring characters! Missing from the above eighteen (!!), just from what I've gotten off the top of my head, are Emma, Quinn, Roz, Figgins, Jacob Israel, Sugar, Wade ("Unique"), Joe, and whoever the second season winner of The Glee Project will be playing. So many characters!

The solution? Not everyone will appear in every episode. As a concept, I think that's extremely smart. A lot of the reason why last season was so weak was that there were dozens of characters all fighting for screen time, so their stories were either lost or non-existent at times. Like with Quinn; they couldn't really figure out anything for her to do, so they turned her character into a walking PSA about texting while driving. So rather than have her play out ridiculous storylines like that, or trying to get her baby back when she legally gave her away for adoption a year previous, Quinn will be appearing in fewer episodes. Great!

The problem with that is that now we will have to keep thirty characters' stories straight without being reminded of their presence every week. Why not just cut them out of the show completely? Quinn has graduated and gone on to great things; let that lie. Why force a story on her and us, the audience? There are plenty of other plots to focus on. It's already becoming a problem; the first episode of the season was overpopulated with new characters, and several returning ones fell by the wayside because of it. Finn didn't appear at all. Remember that at one point Glee was essentially his story? From the beginning, he and Rachel were the primary focus of the show.... and now he's just not there. I can accept some characters not being in the first episode (I didn't miss Quinn or Emma), but Finn's absence was strange.

Other problems with the first episode:

1) The introduction of "the new Rachel," Marley. The girl playing her, Melissa Benoist, is extremely talented, but her backstory is forced and silly. Her mother is the obese cafeteria lady everyone makes fun of, a kindly but unattractive and impoverished woman who sews J. Crew labels into her daughter's thrift store clothes. Marley hides her mother's identity from everyone, because apparently she was laughed out of her old school for it. Now, if this is such a problem... why doesn't her mother get a job at another school?

2) The way the Glee Club's newfound popularity is handled. They are apparently superstars now that they've won Nationals, and they (of course) let it go to their heads. When it comes time to audition for the New Directions, they accept two new members from the dozens who audition. Even though they've lost Kurt, Finn, Puck, Quinn, Rachel, Mercedes, and Santana... and even though it has always been a huge deal that they have just enough members to compete. But they only take one person from auditions, plus Unique, who has transferred schools (that happens a lot in Ohio when it comes to talented singers...). But you just lost seven members! You need five more!

3) The introduction of Rachel's potential new love interest, Brody (Dean Geyer, Terra Nova). He's gorgeous and in every way the antithesis of Finn, which is a good thing and makes him interesting to the audience and, especially, to Rachel. But he spends the episode borderline stalking Rachel and spewing inspirational messages like he's Rachel's own personal Hallmark store.

4) The competition the New Directions have to find "The New Rachel," AKA the new lead soloist. There shouldn't even be a question about this considering they have Unique, who was the MVP at Nationals so clearly well-liked by judges; and if they don't want to go with that option, Rachel herself wished for her successor to be Tina. So why are Brittany and Blaine competing too? And then the fact that Blaine wins is utter crap. He is by no means as talented as people on this show seem to think he is, especially singing next to Alex Newell, who plays Unique.

5) The handling of Kurt's character. He's basically not even the same kid we all fell in love with three years ago, and I can accept that because, like people, characters change. But turning Kurt from a true fighter, someone who never settled for less and always did exactly what he wanted, into a directionless Lima Loser is terrible. It's pathetic to see him hanging around the halls of his high school, sitting in on Glee Club auditions, taking orders from the bitchy new head cheerleader. I mean, for sobbing out loud, even Puck managed to get out! I'm hoping that with his arrival in New York at episode's end that the writers will be doing something redemptive for him; they've screwed Kurt over enough in the past, let him get something for a change.

6) The handling of Unique. Ryan Murphy doesn't seem to understand that not everything that's different has to be treated as a problem. Last season featured two episodes of Unique dealing with her situation of discovering her trans side and acting on it. And two Glee members, Kurt and Mercedes, were so accepting of her that Unique started to feel comfortable being who she really is. But then that's all rejected by the remaining members of the club who encourage Unique to only perform as a girl and to otherwise be a boy. First of all, that's not how trans-living works. Secondly, it's obnoxious. Why is this suddenly a problem? It's explained away as the Glee members letting the popularity go to their heads, fearing anything "other" may relegate them to being freaks again. But just because Unique is outside the norm doesn't mean she has to be treated as a freak. That has always been a problem with Glee, where the term "freak" is tossed around so easily and applied to so many different people. But not everything that's different is problematic, and it doesn't have to be characterized as such. Because that just means we'll have to struggle through some sappy moment of redemption or realization when the difference is finally accepted, and that's not something Glee has done well recently (see: Karofsky).

There were some high points, however:

1) Kate Hudson as Rachel's dance teacher, Cassandra. Her character is saying all the things I've believed about Rachel since day one: she's great for her little club, but she's a dime a dozen outside of it. She can't dance a lick, so it's great to have her primary challenger come in the form of a self-important ballet teacher. And Kate Hudson is just great spitting barbs at Rachel.

2) The time spent in New York. It's more interesting to follow the characters we've watched grow for three years as they pursue the dreams we've heard them talk about all that time. It's a big dose of reality for them, and the moments in New York are some of the most honest the show has had in a very long time. To see Rachel struggling in classes, feeling insecure about her talent, second guessing her decision to leave home... these are all things that real freshmen go through, and it's a stark contrast to the cartoonish aspects of the high school scenes.

All in all, Glee had a rough start to its fourth season. It wasn't entirely a failure, but it wasn't by any means a smooth transition. It has its problems, as it almost always has, and it seems to be creating more for itself with this new format: one location is more interesting than the other, and some characters are more interesting than others. Plus... there's still too damn many of them.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Pilot Review: Guys with Kids


 Guys with Kids (Wednesdays at 8:30 on NBC)

Sometimes you come across a show, like NBC's only new mulit-camera comedy Guys with Kids, that seems relatable and funny on paper and in concept but doesn't know what to do with itself. You could have an ideal staff, a good cast and a cute concept, but for some reason the pieces never quite fit; and what you're left with is an uneven and confusing melting pot of wasted talent.

Guys with Kids follows the misadventures of three new fathers and their families. Chris (Jesse Bradford, Outlaw) is recently divorced from his possibly-psychotic ex-wife Sheila (Erinn Hayes, Childrens Hospital), and he's trying to get a bit more leeway in his raising of his son Ernie. Gary (Anthony Anderson, All About the Andersons, Law & Order) is a stay-at-home dad with four rambunctious kids who just needs a break from the craziness of his family. And Nick (Zach Cregger, Whitest Kids U Know) is married to Emily (Jamie-Lynn Sigler, The Sopranos) but refuses to grow up.

Immature thirty-somethings dealing with the sudden adulthood which comes with having kids is a concept that should be ripe with comedic material. Unfortunately the pilot of Guys with Kids didn't find much of it. Writer Charlie Grandy (The Daily Show) writes some chuckle-worthy one-liners, but overall it's just not a funny episode. The jokes are so broad you could drive a mac truck through them, not to mention they're not all that original. For instance, Nick's daughter's school is hosting a fundraiser themed around the Titanic and he asks, "So how does the night end? With you hogging a piece of driftwood that could easily accommodate both of us?" Jokes based on fifteen-year-old films aren't exactly fresh, and that particular joke has been making the rounds for about as long as social media has existed. The remainder of the episode is a mixture of the cringe-worthy, the smile-worthy, and the totally un-worthy. A scene featuring basketball legend Kareem Abdul Jabar is the episode's highlight, proving that the creators can be funny. But the whole affair is dragged down by stale gender politics (Ex-wives are crazy! Men are immature!) and a sense of pointlessness, as if we've seen and heard it all before.

The cast is the only thing to really recommend here. Anthony Anderson is always a joy to watch, and he gets the best parts of the pilot. His is the only character that really challenges anything as the show's stay-at-home dad, and he has the best sense of comedic timing (which makes sense considering he is the most seasoned of the show's main cast). Jesse Bradford is appropriately adorable and sympathetic as Chris, whose dilemma of trying to start dating again while raising his son is the focus of the first episode. Zach Cregger is droll and sarcastic, even if his character is the least developed and most stereotypical. The wives are relegated to the background, for the most part, and none are particularly memorable, though a late-episode scene between Anderson and his wife, The Cosby Show's Tempestt Bledsoe, hits the note the rest of the show should aim for: after a long day, the couple locks themselves in the bathroom for a few private moments away from the stresses of raising and providing for a family. It's the best balance of pathos and humor in the entire half-hour; unfortunately, it's a short moment, but one that reminds the audience that Guys with Kids isn't all bad... just uneven and unfocused.

What it all boils down to is that Guys with Kids never really finds its groove. The few moments when it's amusing, it's tolerable and borderline enjoyable. But when it's not, it's a slog to get through. It should be a fun slice of life, a reminder of the character-driven sitcoms of the 90s with an endless array of potential mishaps and funny situations. But instead it's thin, mostly uninteresting, and cliche, choosing to focus on jokes about the Titanic, Goodfellas, lead paint, and J-Date rather than the inherent comedy that comes with having young kids and the subsequent need to mature before you're ready.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

2012 Emmy Predictions: Miniseries/Movie & Reality

Leading Actress - Miniseries/Movie

Nicole Kidman - Hemingway & Gellhorn
Emma Thompson - The Song of Lunch
Julianne Moore - Game Change
Ashley Judd - Missing
Connie Britton - American Horror Story

Predicted Winner: Julianne Moore

I actually decided to focus on the miniseries/TV movie categories this year because of how much attention it's gotten for American Horror Story's committing "category fraud." It's not a miniseries, but then again neither was Downton Abbey, last year's winner in many of these categories. Regardless, Julianne Moore's got this one locked up for her uncanny portrayal of Sarah Palin.

Leading Actor - Miniseries/Movie

Clive Owen - Hemingway & Gellhorn
Idris Elba - Luther
Woody Harrelson - Game Change
Benedict Cumberbatch - Sherlock
Kevin Costner - Hatfields & McCoys
Bill Paxton - Hatfields & McCoys

Predicted Winner: Idris Elba

Elba should've won last year (even though, once again, his show does not belong in this category since it is on its second season), so I'm predicting him for this year. A win for Clive Owen would also be welcome and not unexpected.

Supporting Actress - Miniseries/Movie

Jessica Lange - American Horror Story
Frances Conroy - American Horror Story
Sarah Paulson - Game Change
Judy Davis - Page Eight
Mare Winningham - Hatfields & McCoys

Predicted Winner: Jessica Lange

No matter how the show was submitted, Jessica Lange would have walked away with a statue. No one else can win this award.

Supporting Actor - Miniseries/Movie

Denis O'Hare - American Horror Story
David Strathairn - Hemingway & Gellhorn
Ed Harris - Game Change
Martin Freeman - Sherlock
Tom Berenger - Hatfields & McCoys

Predicted Winner: Ed Harris

This could easily go to either Ed Harris or Tom Berenger, but overall Game Change was much stronger than Hatfields & McCoys so I'm giving Harris the edge for his emobodiment of John McCain.

Miniseries or TV Movie

American Horror Story
Hemingway & Gellhorn
Game Change
Luther
Sherlock
Hatfields & McCoys

Predicted Winner: Game Change

Hatfields & McCoys is the only true miniseries in contention, so I'd like to see it win for that fact alone. But both HBO films were better, particularly Game Change.

Reality Program - Competition

So You Think You Can Dance
The Amazing Race
Dancing with the Stars
Top Chef
Project Runway

The Voice

Predicted Winner: The Amazing Race

I can never not predict The Amazing Race, considering it's only lost once (to Top Chef, which has not been nearly as strong since its win). But if it were to lose to anything this year, I'd think it would be The Voice.

Reality Program - Non-Competition

Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution
Antiques Roadshow
Who Do You Think You Are?
Undercover Boss
MythBusters
Shark Tank

Predicted Winner: Shark Tank

For some reason, Shark Tank saw an explosion in popularity this past season. But any of the new nominees could take this one; I think Food Revolution has the best shot of those.

Host for a Reality Program

Cat Deeley - So You Think You Can Dance
Phil Keoghan - The Amazing Race
Ryan Seacrest - American Idol
Betty White - Betty White's Off Their Rockers
Tom Bergeron - Dancing with the Stars

Predicted Winner: Betty White

As much as I adore Cat Deeley and think she's the best host on TV, the voters love Betty White; and this would give her an award in a brand new category for her, so I think she'll take it.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

2012 Emmy Predictions: Drama

Lead Actress - Drama

Kathy Bates - Harry's Law
Claire Danes - Homeland
Elisabeth Moss - Mad Men
Julianna Margulies - The Good Wife
Michelle Dockery - Downton Abbey
Glenn Close - Damages

Predicted Winner: Claire Danes

If anyone else wins, it's a crime. Danes gives an incredible performance in every episode of Homeland.

Lead Actor - Drama

Damian Lewis - Homeland
Bryan Cranston - Breaking Bad
Jon Hamm - Mad Men
Steve Buscemi - Boardwalk Empire
Hugh Bonneville - Downton Abbey
Michael C. Hall - Dexter

Predicted Winner: Bryan Cranston

Cranston is the safe bet here, especially since his show is wrapping up on a high note; but Lewis is giving the kind of performance awards voters just eat up.

Supporting Actress - Drama

Maggie Smith - Downton Abbey
Joanne Froggatt - Downton Abbey
Christina Hendricks - Mad Men
Anna Gunn - Breaking Bad
Archie Panjabi - The Good Wife
Christine Baranski - The Good Wife

Predicted Winner: Maggie Smith

Smith won last year in a category Downton Abbey never should've been eligible for (Miniseries/TV Movie), but that doesn't take away from the fact that she's excellent. On the other hand, Hendricks is due for the award, so I'm not counting her out entirely. They're pretty evenly matched, I think

Supporting Actor - Drama

Brendan Coyle - Downton Abbey
Jim Carter - Downton Abbey
Peter Dinklage - Game of Thrones
Giancarlo Esposito - Breaking Bad
Aaron Paul - Breaking Bad
Jared Harris - Mad Men

Predicted Winner: Giancarlo Esposito

I think this is another category where there's little doubt that the award belongs to someone, and that someone is Esposito. Dinklage and Paul are both excellent, but both already have awards.

Guest Actress - Drama

Uma Thurman - Smash
Joan Cusack - Shameless
Julia Ormond - Mad Men
Martha Plimpton - The Good Wife
Jean Smart - The Good Wife
Loretta Devine - Grey's Anatomy

Predicted Winner: Jean Smart

These guest categories are always hard to predict, this particular one especially; I never saw Loretta Devine coming last year. So, in my mind, any of these women have a chance, including a repeat win for Devine.

Guest Actor - Drama

Jason Ritter - Parenthood
Michael J. Fox - The Good Wife
Dylan Baker - The Good Wife
Jeremy Davies - Justified
Ben Feldman - Mad Men
Mark Margolis - Breaking Bad

Predicted Winner: Mark Margolis

Fox and Margolis are pretty even, in my mind. I think Breaking Bad is the stronger show, so Margolis will come out on top. Plus, that's a gutsy performance: he doesn't utter a word, relying entirely on facial expressions and a bell.

Drama Series

Mad Men
Breaking Bad
Downton Abbey
Homeland
Game of Thrones
Boardwalk Empire

Predicted Winner: Homeland

I'm not at all confident in predicting Homeland, unquestionably the best new show of the last year (and probably of many years), as the winner. It absolutely deserves to win, but Downton Abbey is the type of show Emmy voters love. The Academy clearly loves Breaking Bad but has never rewarded it as the Best Series... will they do it this year, considering next year will be its last of eligibility? And Mad Men is always a contender as well.

Monday, September 10, 2012

2012 Emmy Predictions: Comedy

Leading Actress - Comedy

Julia Louis-Dreyfus - Veep
Melissa McCarthy - Mike & Molly
Edie Falco - Nurse Jackie
Amy Poehler - Parks & Recreation
Tina Fey - 30 Rock
Zooey Deschanel - New Girl
Lena Dunham - Girls

Predicted Winner: Julia Louis-Dreyfus

Even though Veep is probably a long-shot for Comedy Series, it has an undeniably wonderful leading lady in Julia Louis-Dreyfus. The show wouldn't exist without her, and she effortlessly plays up the camp of her character in a good, old-fashioned, fully entertaining turn.

Leading Actor - Comedy

Jim Parsons - The Big Bang Theory
Alec Baldwin - 30 Rock
Louis C.K. - Louie
Larry David - Curb Your Enthusiasm
Jon Cryer - Two and a Half Men
Don Cheadle - House of Lies

Predicted Winner: Louis C.K.

Louie finally had the breakthrough it deserved with the awards circles this year, particularly its vulgar star/creator. I wouldn't be surprised, however, if his humor is a little too over-the-top for some voters, thereby opening up Jim Parsons to a third win for another very strong episode ("The Werewolf Transformation," in which Sheldon picks up the bongos).

Supporting Actress - Comedy

Sofia Vergara - Modern Family
Julie Bowen - Modern Family
Kathryn Joosten - Desperate Housewives
Kristen Wiig - Saturday Night Live
Mayim Bialik - The Big Bang Theory
Merritt Wever - Nurse Jackie

Predicted Winner: Julie Bowen

I think Bowen will take it again this year, even though my vote would go to Mayim Bialik for the single funniest moment on television last season in her submitted episode: the tiara freak-out. But I wouldn't count out a sympathy vote for the recently deceased Joosten, or for Wiig in her last season at SNL. This category is pretty open with a lot of wild card factors at play. But I still think it's Bowen's to lose.

Supporting Actor - Comedy

Bill Hader - Saturday Night Live
Ty Burrell - Modern Family
Eric Stonestreet - Modern Family
Ed O'Neill - Modern Family
Jesse Tyler Ferguson - Modern Family
Max Greenfield - New Girl

Predicted Winner: Jesse Tyler Ferguson

Any of the Modern Family guys could easily take this, but since Stonestreet and Burrell already have statues in this category, I'm holding out hope for a win for Ferguson. But based on the strength of the submitted episodes, Stonestreet may get a second win here.

Guest Actress - Comedy

Elizabeth Banks - 30 Rock
Margaret Cho - 30 Rock
Melissa McCarthy - Saturday Night Live
Maya Rudolph - Saturday Night Live
Kathy Bates - Two and a Half Men
Dot-Marie Jones - Glee

Predicted Winner: Melissa McCarthy

I don't really think anyone else can touch McCarthy, but never underestimate the power of Kathy Bates.

Guest Actor - Comedy

Will Arnett - 30 Rock
Jon Hamm - 30 Rock
Jimmy Fallon - Saturday Night Live
Bobby Cannavale - Nurse Jackie
Michael J. Fox - Curb Your Enthusiasm
Greg Kinnear - Modern Family

Predicted Winner: Michael J. Fox

Fox did something a lot of awards voters like: played a caricature of himself. It's worked well for Matt LeBlanc on Episodes (though his absence in the Leading Actor category this year is shocking, he won the Golden Globe), and I think that combined with how well-liked he is will give Fox the award.

Comedy Series

Veep
Girls
Modern Family
The Big Bang Theory
30 Rock
Curb Your Enthusiasm

Predicted Winner: Modern Family

I have to say these nominations confuse me; I don't understand why Veep is here, considering its only other major nomination was for Julia Louis-Dreyfus. I'd think Louie would be a better nominee, since it has nominations in both writing and directing categories as well as for its leading man. But keeping comedy and writing nominations in mind, as well as acting nods, I think this has to go to Modern Family again... although an upset by Curb Your Enthusiasm wouldn't be a total surprise.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Pilot Review: Revolution



Revolution (Mondays at 10:00 on NBC; Premieres September 17)

For the love of God, please don't let it be aliens or mercury. My fragile psyche cannot handle another The Event or Alcatraz-like disappointment. Each of those shows had strong pilots with gripping, mysterious plots and lots of action. But each of them ultimately faltered and presented groan-inducing explanations for their respective phenomena. I'm sincerely hoping that Revolution (also produced by Alcatraz's JJ Abrams) does not go that route.

The logline of Revolution is fairly straightforward: One day, all the power goes out. Cars, phones, electricity... all of it gone. Fifteen years later, people have reverted to a sort-of post-modern Robinson Crusoe way of life, building colonies like survivalists. They raise chickens, defend themselves with crossbows and use herbal remedies in lieu of medical treatments. A militia has taken over for the failed government, led by Monroe, a mysterious figure who sends his troops out on horseback to find Ben (Tim Guinee, Lie to Me) and Miles Mattheson (Billy Burke, Twilight), who may have information on why the lights went out and how to turn them back on. In the meantime, Ben's son Danny (Graham Rogers) is taken hostage by the Militia in their pursuit of the elusive Miles, so his sister Charlie (Tracy Spiridakos, Being Human); town doctor Maggie (Anna Lise Phillips); and Ben's best friend Aaron (Zak Orth, Music and Lyrics) set out to find Miles and bring him out of hiding.

Revolution really is just another in a long line of post-apocaplytic/dystopian shows and movies with familiar elements from many that came before it; you'll be able to spot similarities to Terra Nova, Lost, The Hunger Games, I Am Legend, etc. It even has a lot in common with old Westerns: horseback as the means of travel, vigilante justice, lawlessness. Director Jon Favreau (Iron Man) presents a lot of striking images in this barren future: a crashed plane's tail peeking through a river's surface, Wrigley Field covered in overgrowth, cities turned into motley campgrounds. It's a visually stunning episode full of sweeping pans of a harsh but beautiful landscape of absence. Favreau's direction almost makes up for an ultimately nonsensical and often melodramatic script by Eric Kripke (Supernatural).

I don't like to be "that guy" who overthinks things, but one can't help but do that with a show like Revolution. For example, how did all the power sources go out at one time? Ok, fine... I can accept that all the electricity vanished. But why won't cars start? If these people have been living without any sort of power source for fifteen years, how can Aaron walk around in a new-looking AC/DC shirt? I can accept that they probably make their own clothes by hand, but a screen-printed AC/DC shirt would have to be 15+ years old... yet it's not falling apart or tattered. And where did Miles get that sword training from? He's practically a ninja in the episode's final fight sequence. Speaking of which, despite the logic issues, the action sequences are awesome. The final battle between Miles and the Militia is epic thanks to a lack of gunfire and a concentration on hand-to-hand combat. The episode's teaser, where we see the protagonists as the power goes out, is gutsy. But there's an underlying sense of bloated self-importance about the whole thing, likely due to Kripke's awkward dialogue, a barrage of melodramatic monologues, and the fact that everything is taken deathly serious. In the first fifteen minutes, two characters who we believe to be protagonists are killed off and another is kidnapped. A lot happens in those first minutes, and it establishes a world where there's no room for lightheartedness... just death, destruction, and the instinct to survive. It doesn't make for a wholly pleasant viewing experience, and it's kind of ironic given how ridiculous the whole plot is to begin with.

To go along with the script, most of the performances are tear-stained, wide-eyed, face-twisted melodrama. And then there's Billy Burke as Miles, who's just having a good time and playing it cool. Zak Orth is also keeping it lowkey as Aaron, one of the subtlest but most interesting mysteries. He was once an executive at Google ("That was a computer thing, right?"), with a wife whom he married at a now-gutted hotel in Chicago, but now he's one of the trusted keepers of a secret file which comes into play in the pilot's last minute. How he factors into the whole plot, for now primarily focused on Miles and his return to his estranged family, is one of Revolution's more intriguing threads.

Having written all of this, it may surprise you that I actually do recommend checking Revolution out. It doesn't really make much sense, and it's nothing we haven't seen before. But it never takes the easy way out in the first episode, introducing conflict at every turn. It has a few likeable characters, and it introduces some unexpected plot threads late in the pilot. The action scenes are entertaining, the visuals are great. But in the end, the entertainment factor on Revolution is high, and that's really what TV should come down to: was I entertained? And the answer here is: yes, very much.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Pilot Review: Ben and Kate


Ben and Kate (Tuesdays at 8:30 on Fox; Premieres September 25)

I watched this pilot a week ago and have been trying ever since to find something more thoughtful to say about it than what I initially felt. But the only words still swimming around in my head are "cute," "charming," and "endearing." Ben and Kate is all of these things, I just can't bring myself to feel anything deeper than that.

Kate Fox (Dakota Johnson, 21 Jump Street, daughter of Don Johnson and Melanie Griffith) is a single mom who gave birth to her daughter Maddie (Maggie Jones, We Bought a Zoo) just before graduating college. Her brother Ben (Nat Faxon, Oscar winning screenwriter of The Descendants) is a permanent drifter, floating in and out of his sister's and niece's lives between relationships and jobs. As Kate explains in the opening narration, "My brother Ben and I kind of raised ourselves. He never grew up. I grew up too fast." Now Ben is back in town to stop the wedding of his ex-girlfriend and reconnect with his family.

Like the other comedy pilots, there's nothing new happening here. Ben has Peter Pan Syndrome, Kate is the perpetually single mom, Maddie is the precocious kid. We see elements of family dysfunction, obsessed lovers, etc. In that sense, it's not so refreshing. But the script, from creator Dana Fox (What Happens in Vegas), is very earnest in its portrayal of the sibling relationships between Kate and Ben. Perhaps that's because it's based on Fox's actual real-life relationship with her brother, but still. The main characters are well-rounded and feel real, never overstepping the boundaries into the territory of caricature. The same can't be said of the other comedy pilots this season, so I'll give Ben and Kate its due in that respect. The interactions between Ben and Kate and between Ben and Maddie are sweet and cute, sometimes even funny. At the moment Ben discovers his ex is getting married, he must hold his tongue in front of his young niece, exclaiming, "There's so much I want to say! Why are you so young right now?!" The moment goes on a bit too long and has been seen before, but it really does show Ben's progress toward maturity in just a few short moments.

The funniest part of the pilot, however, is a supporting turn from Lucy Punch (Bad Teacher) as Kate's co-worker BJ. She is utterly ridiculous and gives the worst advice, but Punch plays her earnestly and so it comes across as funny rather than schlocky. The remainder of the performances are fairly standard. Faxon is an acquired taste as Ben. His open-mouthed, wide-eyed, manic portrayal of Ben is overwhelming at times, but when he brings out the softer side of his character it becomes easier to swallow. He is equal parts Jim Carrey and Mike Meyers, so it can be a bit much at times. But just like those two, Faxon has quiet moments between the outbursts that really make you feel for him and understand him.

When it's all said and done, there are worse ways you could spend a half-hour than with Ben and Kate. Like I said earlier, it's funny in a cute/charming/endearing way. It manages to be family-appropriate without inducing eyerolls, and it has a lot of heart. In a season of pretty weak comedies, that's high praise indeed.