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Saturday, September 16, 2006

2006 Pilot Season: Comedies, Part 1, The Class
In TV pilot season, I do something I don’t do during the rest of the year: watch sitcoms. (That’s an exaggeration, but only slightly. I watch How I Met Your Mother, Reno 911!, and Weeds—but it’s debatable if the last two shows really qualify as sitcoms.)

The crop of new comedies I’ve seen so far will certainly not affect my long-term viewing habits—they’re all misogynist, derivative, and utterly unfunny.

The worst of the lot was The Class—whose Platonic ideal is Friends. Instead of six pals (including one set of siblings), we have eight pals (including one set of siblings)—young and single and weird in their own special, theoretically endearing ways.

The premise is that Ethan—played by John Ritter’s son Jason—is engaged to a woman he met in third grade. To celebrate the 20th anniversary of the day they met, he invites their third-grade classmates to a party. Naturally—because in these shows women are always bitches (unless they’re idiots)—she breaks up with him because he’s way too nice to her, all in the hearing of the reunited class. Cut to a very awkward party. (Awkward is the new funny—except when it’s not.)

The problem with the show—like lots of similar shows these days—is that it’s just not funny. OK, I know it’s not stand-up, so we can’t expect jokes, but shouldn’t there be at least one vaguely comedic situation?

Instead, all the laughs were based on pain. Let’s do a roll-call, or perhaps that should be role-call: Lina hangs up on Ethan’s party invitation call so she can return to reacting to finding her boyfriend in bed with another woman. She’s the kind of person who always wears the wrong thing and says the wrong thing. Lina’s twin sister Kat is a selfish, rude, and apparently pathologically incapable of basic empathy. Duncan is a sweet but immature doofus who lives with—and struggles not to be controlled by—his interfering mother. Nicole, Duncan’s high-school sweetheart is married to a former football star who is much older than she is; they don’t have much in common, and he’s sometimes mean to her. Kyle is gay and apparently in a semi-loving if shallow relationship, but his role is totally undeveloped. Holly is a TV newswoman who’s still mad at Kyle for ditching her for a guy on prom night—the hilarious payoff her is that her husband is very effeminate. (Laugh? I thought my pants would never dry.) Finally, there’s Richie, who was about to swallow a bottle of pills when Ethan called; he and Lina discover an intense connection and see the glimmer of a bright future in their dark, depressing lives. Then, in the final scene of the pilot, he drives his car into her and knocks her down. Hey, even if he just winged her, car accidents are wicked funny, eh?

Other than a life-improving re-connection between Duncan and Nicole, it’s hard to see anything other than misery, depression, and darkness in store for any of the other characters. Toward the end of the pilot, Ethan says something along the lines of: “There were 28 in our class. How many are already stuck in lousy jobs and bad marriages? How many of us have already made that one big, dumb choice we’ll never recover from?” Yay, that’s the attitude! I don’t think watching a comedy is supposed to make you feel even more suicidal than the actors.

PS: The actress playing Lina has a very distinctive, oddly pitched, husky voice. I couldn’t place it, but I knew I’d seen her before. Turns out she’s Heather Goldenhersh, who played Sister James in Doubt. I’m guessing she’ll be free for further theatrical engagements very soon.

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