Saturday, June 1, 2013

Franzengroin, Brad Garrett, and the Fate of Quality TV

I've come to the conclusion that my wife and I are series killers.

No, not serial killers, series killers--as in, TV series.  As soon as we start enjoying a show--really plunging into it, getting involved with the characters, looking forward to visiting the TiVo queue every night like it was a trip to Paris--as soon as we make a heavy emotional investment in a program, that's when the TV executives decide to cancel it.  It happened with Better Off Ted, Southland (though that was resuscitated on TNT), and Pushing Daisies.   All beloved shows, all beheaded by the studio axe.

And now it's happened again with one of the smartest, funniest sitcoms of this year: How to Live With Your Parents (For the Rest of Your Life).  Starring Sarah Chalke, Elizabeth Perkins and the totally-excellent Brad Garrett, the premise was simple: after breaking up with her husband (played by Jon Dore), Polly (Chalke) comes back to live with her parents (Perkins and Garrett), along with her adorable, precocious daughter (Rachel Eggleston).

Sure, it's a story that's been done before (Failure to Launch, anyone?), but the writing is zippy and zingy and the acting is first-rate--especially Garrett and Perkins as the laid-back, self-centered parents Max and Elaine.  I've had a man-crush on Elizabeth Perkins ever since 1988's Big, so that was sort a given in this case.  But Brad Garrett is a total surprise.  He was one of the best parts of Everybody Loves Raymond, playing the sad-sack brother to Ray Romano's neurotic, whiny husband/son/man-child.  Garrett used his towering height (6 feet, 8-1/2 inches) and bottomless-well voice to good effect in that long-running series.  In How to Live With Your Parents, he's something else entirely.  He emerges from his Sack of Sad to play Max, Polly's stepfather and once-promising actor who now runs a third-rate comedy club.  So much of this series' success lies in chemistry and timing and he and Perkins are a match made in Dialogue Heaven, feeding off one another with rapid-fire, interlocking, overlapping chatter--the kind of exchanges that make you hit the rewind button on your TiVo twice in order to catch All the Jokes.

A couple of months ago, I'd planned on coming here to the blog and posting this picture:

This, ladies and gentlemen is our introduction to Max and Elaine in the first episode when Polly shows up on their doorstep.  A session of middle-age afternoon delight is interrupted by the ringing of the doorbell and Max grabs the first thing he can find to cover himself: a copy of Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections--a hardback edition, no less (wink wink nudge nudge).  Surely this is one of the best examples of product placement in the literary world (though I doubt, Franzen being Franzen, that the author is very happy with it).  There's really no reason Max has to be semi-nude--he could have answered the door tying the sash on a bathrobe--but for those of us in the know, this is a terrific literary joke.  Just as The Corrections details the strained relationships in a dysfunctional family, Polly's re-entry to the parental nest hints at trouble ahead.

It's just too bad that the Trouble had to do with the future of the show itself and not the characters.  After the somewhat strained pilot, How to Live With Your Parents settled into a terrific ensemble piece with all of the actors finding their character-groove and the writers flinging jokes at us like sardines into a dolphin tank.  ABC apparently thought otherwise.

So there you have it, my love letter to a doomed television show.  If I thought it would do any good, I'd start a petition, campaigning the suits at ABC to give How to Live another life. Until then, my wife and I are going to choose our television shows very carefully.  I'd hate to see a good show go down in flames just because we loved it.


  1. Ray Romano could never have been Raymond Barone without Brad Garrett as Robert.

    My husband and I used to like Men of a Certain Age (Romano minus Garrett), and years before that, Mind of a Married Man -- both axed before their time.

    Plenty of others too. We have the same joke in our house: better not like it too much!

  2. We loved Men of a Certain Age, too! Which led directly to its demise.