Monday, March 3, 2008

There's Something About Farelly

Well, sometimes what's old is new again. And sometimes things are just "Unhitched." The new sitcom, executive produced by the Farelly Brothers (Peter and Bobby, of There's Something About Mary and Fever Pitch fame), is full of stereotypes and plays almost as if it's a dumb parody of what made the Farelly Brothers so popular.

While the Farrellys are not credited writers on the two episodes that I watched (the first two of the series, which will air on Fox), their stamp is all over it and not just because of the directing credits they receive. There's gross out humor in the form of a shrimp-like skin tag on an otherwise perfect woman's back, there's picking on the handicapped and short people (though neither of those populations are really the butt of the jokes) and there's just enough heart at the end of each episode to remind viewers that without the compulsory hug, the Farrelly Brothers' projects would just be sick.

"Unhitched" plays like a lighter and less funny "It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia" which is a problem. The reason the latter show is on FX instead of broadcast sister Fox is because of it's dark humor and inappropriate situations. Cable=risks. Diluting the most salient parts of a sitcom, and changing the location (Boston for Philadelphia) and cast, doesn't produce the same results. Oh, and this time the cast are joined by their failed marriages (hence the catchy title).

The cast isn't strong, but I can't decide if it's the weak material or their obvious disinterest in it that weighs the show down. Straight-man and plot anchor Craig Bierko is obviously very talented, and his resume speaks for itself. But on "Unhitched" he comes off as part Jay Leno with his rubbery face and part a less-charming C-grade George Clooney, which is unfair to Bierko's overflowing talent.

And then there's Rashida Jones. My personal choice for "It Girl" of the past two years, will someone PLEASE give this girl a good starring televison vehicle? Not only did she date John Krasinski in real life (which I'm slowly getting over) but she held her own with television's strongest ensemble as Karen Fillapelli on "The Office." She walked into a situation where everyone should have hated her, after all she kept Jim and Pam apart for another heart-breaking season AND she was from the Stamford branch, and walked out with half of the show's fans begging her to stay. She left for "Unhitched" and I hope she can persuade Michael Scott to give her another shot (she could transfer back from Utica?). Jones has all the makings of a star, and seeing her play the resident hot chick friend is just further delaying her success and wasting her potential.

But there's diversity in the cast, coming in the form of an Indian friend to round out the ensemble. He's a doctor with a thick accent who doesn't understand easy American pop culture references (like Van Halen) and is just learning to tell jokes. In the first two episodes he is frequently left out of the core ensemble's storylines, instead having his own plot. He is consistently faltering with women and provides comic relief. In short, he's almost buffoonish. Way to go on the inclusion front, "Unhitched."

"Unhitched" has some clever one liners and quick wit, but it simply isn't enough to keep this viewer coming back week after week. The humor is supposed to be "edgy," but is so sanitized it just comes off feeling flat, much like Johnny Knoxville's cameo in the pilot as a pimp. I'm honestly not sure if the show is supposed to be missing a laugh track or if the studio audience was as unresponsive as I was.

If the show can figure out how to utilize the strengths of its cast and tone down the broad humor in favor of more subtle comedic turns, "Unhitched" could last another season or two in this shark-infested waters of network sitcoms. If not, be preapred for "Are You Smarter Than A Dancing American Idol Gladiator" or whatever genius Fox has in store for us.

-Meryn, who is so jealous of Rashida Jones it makes her hair hurt.

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