After getting a divorce, some men play house with the first willing woman they can find. Others act like they've tunneled out of prison alongside Tim Robbins in The Shawshank Redemption with a newfound sense of freedom, some recently divorced men buy a sports car and several just sort of coast.
Gary Brooks (Jay Mohr) could be the leader of The Coasters-- not the oldies R&B music group-- but the man whom you just know before you even meet his stoner father, has plenty of the slacker gene in his DNA.
Yet his ability to coast and the creative efforts he goes to in doing the bare minimum is what makes the best part of People's Choice winning Best New Comedy so appealing to channel surfers looking for an honest to goodness family sitcom.
Of course, there's nothing overly challenging about the series as initially it struck me as a cross between Two and a Half Men minus the Kevin Smith inspired dialogue and Kevin James' old CBS Everybody Loves Raymond relative, The King of Queens. And while, Gary's familiarity makes it TV comfort food, nonetheless it's filled with enough unexpected heart, surprises and overall affability to make you feel quite content to coast right along with the guy who fired Jerry Maguire in Jerry Maguire.
Even though he brags to his younger girlfriend (Jamie King) that he tricked out his entire place for thirty-six dollars at the 99 Cent store, just months after the finalization of his divorce, our lead still can't pass up the chance to write “this is a hold up” on the memo line of the spousal support checks to his ex-wife Allison (Paula Marshall).
However, Gary Unmarried gets bonus points for ensuring that Jay Mohr is given enough sour with the sweet to make his character more evolved than any of the Two and a Half Men yet edgier than James's King throughout a majority of the successful first season.
Yet while it begins promisingly enough as the series keeps a believable timbre in his banter-filled yet still civil relationship with Allison, Gary Unmarried is at its worst when it goes for the world's most obvious angry divorce jokes. For, just like I never understood why anyone in the world found the brutally hostile hate spewing bile of Everybody Loves Raymond even the slightest bit funny, the writers of Gary Unmarried need to realize that it's never entertaining to watch people fight nonstop or pick away at each other like middle school bullies on a playground wherein each one eggs the other on with another “oh yeah?”
And because unlike shorter cable broadcast seasons, given that the premiere season of the series, directed by legendary Cheers, Will and Grace and Friends TV maestro James Burrows was ordered for a full twenty episode run, we do have to suffer through our share of dumb disagreements and overly clingy behavior.
Of course, it's inevitable, being that he and Allison share custody of their two children and are constantly in each other's lives after the very recent dissolution of their fifteen year marriage but the talented writers need to find a balance in the way these various exchanges play out. Likewise, since the chemistry between the two leads borders on romantic comedy heat, the arguing just makes it all seem like an "I love you, I hate you, I love you, I hate you," version of foreplay instead of two adults moving on.
However, to its credit, a good bulk of the twenty episodes are seriously funny, with enough surprises to keep you invested, especially right after it begins when Allison drops a figurative anvil on her ex by informing him that it's no problem he's involved with someone else since she's already engaged to be married... to their marriage counselor (Ed Begley Jr.).
Making a great segue from his witty turns in Christopher Guest's mockumentaries to a scene-stealing against-type hilarious jaw-dropper opposite Seth Rogen in Pineapple Express, Begley is terrific as the ethically challenged man in the middle.
In fact, more often than not, Begley ends up having to referee the dramas that arise between Allison, Gary and their two precocious children including a young teen son who's just discovering girls and his younger sister Louise who has posters of Che Guevara, Al Gore, and Mahatma Gandhi on her bedroom wall.
Whether they're borrowing from the plot of Mohr's film Picture Perfect in pretending everything is fine in their marriage as faux husband and wife at a couple's function, stealing each other's relatives to outdo the other for Thanksgiving plans, or both winding up accidentally at the exact same restaurant on what used to be their wedding anniversary, the immense likability of Marshall and Mohr overcome some clunky jokes and dubious situations.
Yet, no matter how wild things get, Mohr gets the chance for the first time since TV's unfairly canceled Action to prove that he can play not only a comedic leading man but a guy we care about, whether he's coasting his way through fatherhood, getting roped into heading off with his son and war vet brother Rob Riggle to Vegas for the weekend or when it takes his new girlfriend pointing it out to make him realize that the man who runs his own house-painting company hasn't managed to paint his own house yet.
However, it takes a true talent for us to understand that the lack of painting isn't from coasting too much but hints that he hasn't truly moved on yet from the role of Gary Brooks, married family man who used to live in a place he still calls home.
Given the large percentage of blended families and children of divorce, it's good to see a comedy that-- very few jokes aside-- tweens can watch with their parents and find familiar grounds for laughter as it forgoes the raunch-fest of Two and a Half Men as well as some of the extreme unbelievability of other funny but flawed series including The New Adventures of Old Christine.
Instead, Gary ensures that even when things start to stray and the writer in me begins anticipating several different comebacks, there's always a positive balance at heart. Having caught onto the series as a new viewer just with this 3-disc first season set, I can say that although it isn't 100% original, I laughed more often than I didn't and it's truly worth your time.
Likewise, while I'm always glad to discover another quality comedy series, based on the way the plotlines began taking a dive towards the end of the season, I'm worried that if Gary's writers don't ditch the petty Raymond style she-devil vs. idiot caveman jokes, then viewers will divorce the show much faster than the Brooks couple did so themselves.
Text ©2010, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reserved. http://www.filmintuition.com
Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.
FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.