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Sunday, September 17, 2006

2006 Pilot Season: Comedies, Part 2, 'Til Death and Happy Hour
TV networks schedule their hottest shows for Thursday nights because that’s when movie studios want to advertise the weekend’s new movies and when stores want to advertise the weekend’s special offers. In the 8-9 p.m. slot this fall, Fox has lined up two new comedies—‘Til Death, a vehicle for Brad Garrett, late of the most inexplicably popular show in TV history, Everybody Loves Raymond, and Happy Hour. This means that the time slot that once featured the women’s-empowerment classic Living Single is now misogyny central.

Happy Hour won’t last long—it’s the latest in a weird sequence of short-term Fox sitcoms featuring young men new to Chicago, dealing with work and apartment quandaries (I liked last year’s The Loop much better). It begins when Henry, who recently left his sweet job managing John Deere inventory in Missouri to live with his girlfriend in Chicago and work in her family’s business, finds himself dumped and therefore homeless, jobless, and loveless. He goes to another apartment in the building where Larry needs a new roommate to replace Brad, who has just moved in with his fiancee, Tina, who has totally—and absolutely humorlessly—castrated and infantilized her man. Larry takes pity on Henry—and even sends him off to a job interview with his old, old friend Amanda, a likable slut with no control over her mouth (the words that come out of it or the deep-dish pizza that goes into it).

Once again, there were zero jokes in the entire show, and although Amanda is somewhat sympathetic (with the emphasis on pathetic), the basic thrust—make that the overt story line—is that women are out to destroy men: Henry’s ex-girlfriend ruins his life, Tina ruins Brad. The only laugh lines—and you have to use an extraordinarily broad definition to find anything that qualifies—are, when Larry sees Tina in the apartment building, “The lesbian lip-waxing meeting is down the hall” (man, homophobic woman-hating is funny!), and, when Amanda is interviewing the shorts-wearing Henry for a job (his ex won’t let him into the apartment to get his clothes): “I can see your balls. … There’s nothing about them I can’t see.” Start engraving the Emmy!

The title of the show refers to Larry’s daily 4 p.m. martini appointment. Happy hour, he believes, is the time between “something bad (work) and something good (dinner). Enjoy it!” Fox’s conceptual problem with these shows about young men in between something easy (living with your parents) and something hard (paying your own way) is that, in real life, happy hour is only fun about one time in five. Usually, you end up feeling worried about something you said, in trouble about something you did, or in really deep trouble about something you didn’t do because you had a wicked hangover the next day.

Happy Hour’s lead-in is even more cynical and misogynistic, if that’s possible, though we do at least see that the women aren’t the ball-busting, fun-killing dragons men say they are. But, boy, do they say it a lot. Brad Garrett and Joely Fisher are Eddie and Joy Stark—a high-school history teacher and a travel agent married for more than 20 years—Eddie Kaye Thomas and Kat Foster are their next-door neighbors, newlyweds Jeff and Steph. Since Jeff is the new vice principal at Eddie’s school, they carpool together, providing Eddie with much time to lecture Jeff on wives and their soul-crushing ways.

When you see the title ‘Til Death, you can’t help thinking of Til Death Us Do Part, the British show that spawned All in the Family. Yes, Alf Garnett was a wife-berating bigot—but as a million high-school essays have concluded, his intolerance was in the service of counseling tolerance. I couldn’t possibly tell you what ‘Til Death is in the service of—other than paying Brad Garrett’s utilities bill.

Take the time when Jeff believes that he’s going to get a pool table for his new home. No chance, says Eddie, “A pool table is for fun. Men want to have fun. Wives want to walk that fun deep into the woods and shoot it dead. Marriage isn’t about fun. Marriage is more about having someone to drive you to the hospital for your operations.” Or here’s Eddie on what women want: “Even if women don’t actually host dinner parties, they want to believe that they host dinner parties. That’s why you just registered for thousands of dollars’ worth of china. … There’s a reason china rhymes with vagina.” (So why does prick rhyme with dick?)

The vagina monologue is typical of the show’s down-there fixation—Eddie can’t stop pointing out that the kids will have no end of fun with Jeff’s last name—Woodcock—and way too much time is wasted riffing on that, especially when Jeff starts a Web site called—oh, hold on, can’t type, stitch! In fact, a lot of the content seems very racy for an 8 p.m. time slot—especially the scene where Jeff, describing how, in a moment of post-coital weakness, Steph agreed to agree to let him get a pool table, does a wife-rogering pelvic-thrust dance around the teachers lounge, while he yells to Eddie, “How about this weekend you can just listen to the sound of me making love to my wife on my brand new pool table.” It’s just gross, and not even vaguely funny. Like the rest of the show.

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