Welcome to a new Sitcom Tuesday and the conclusion of our look at the best of The John Larroquette Show (1993-1996, NBC), a fascinatingly different never-quite-a-hit that stood in contrast to much of the Peacock Network’s mid ’90s fare. The series is currently unavailable commercially in any form, but I have access to off-air recordings of 83 of the 84 produced episodes (and I found the final draft teleplay for the one I’m missing), so let’s discuss!
The John Larroquette Show stars JOHN LARROQUETTE as John Hemingway, LIZ TORRES as Mahalia Sanchez, GIGI RICE as Carly Watkins, DARYL “CHILL” MITCHELL as Dexter Walker, CHI McBRIDE as Heavy Gene, LENNY CLARKE as Officer Adam Hampton, ELIZABETH BERRIDGE as Officer Eve Eggers, and BILL MOREY as Oscar.
This abbreviated final season of The John Larroquette Show is, simply, not good… You know that conclusion to which many cling today about the series? The one about it being ruined by network interference and stripped of its originality? The one about the dark, brooding tone being supplanted by more and more of the homogenized, templated banality that represented some of the network’s other contemporaneous hits, until it became just another ordinary workplace comedy where everyone’s defined in such broad strokes that they’re hardly defined at all? Well, I’m afraid that this theory of dashed potential is proved valid by the difficult-to-watch fourth season. Oh, sure, as I’ve (hopefully) indicated here, the journey from One to Four isn’t so simple; there were legitimate reasons to make changes, and the show simply couldn’t sustain improvement — even with smart decisions (separating John and Catherine) counteracting some of the foolish ones (pairing John and Catherine in the first place)… But by the time we reach Four, John Larroquette might indeed be any other ol’ mediocre series, with cumbersome stories (like the premiere, which has to resolve last year’s cliffhanger and show Alison LaPlaca, a failed experiment, the exit), special guest appearances (Ray Charles, for one), and characterizations with less depth than the leading lady’s “the Rachel” hairdo. For even as the show continues to use its metatheatrical gimmick to its comedic advantage, there’s no more fight left here — the series has progressively altered itself at the behest of the network (the final produced episode is perhaps mockingly called “Friends”), and now has nothing positive to show for it.
John’s lost definition (because the tonal changes weren’t motivated by his emotional growth), and none of the other characters have received any — not Carly, who starts the year as the new love interest, but is quickly alleviated of that chore (neither maneuver — their pairing nor separation — is believable), not Eggers, who’s been one of the broadest players from the beginning (even when the series was dark and this felt really out of place), and not even Mahalia, played by the twice Emmy-nominated Liz Torres, who (along with Dexter) shares the deepest relationship with John… So, by now, there’s no one here who can motivate stories, and as a result, the scripts have to reach for broad and situationally comedic notions and centerpieces. Needless to say, it’s not satisfying. In fact, while 12 episodes were produced (six of which went unbroadcast in the original NBC run, where the show was moved from the network’s “B” comedy block on Tuesdays to the network’s “C” comedy block on Wednesdays), I could only pick three to highlight — and they’re not great… Nevertheless, if nothing below is really worth watching, at least some Arrested Development fans may be curious about seeing an earlier Hurwitz-run series, for he led this season (while creator Don Reo stepped back to work on the sitcom against which Larroquette was scheduled, Pearl, coming up tomorrow…), with assistance from several of last year’s staff additions (Seigel, Levenstein, Brady, and Gluck), along with Paul Perlove (One Day At A Time, Blossom, The Secret Life Of The American Teenager), Tom Saunders & Kell Cahoon (The Larry Sanders Show, NewsRadio, Just Shoot Me!, Arrested Development), and David Castro (Married People, The Jeff Foxworthy Show, Married… With Children)… So, for curiosity’s sake, if nothing else, here are three episodes that I think exemplify this year’s strongest.
Here are my picks for the three best episodes of Season Four. (They are in AIRING ORDER.) Every episode this year was directed by David Trainer.
01) Episode 77: “Copies” (Aired: 10/16/96)
John intends to stage a reading of a play about his relationship with his dad.
Written by Tom Saunders & Kell Cahoon
The last season is inferior and unrewarding in total, and even as I’ve had to reduce this list to only three highlightable outings, it’s frankly true that none of these are as worth your time as the better episodes from the first three years. The bar has lowered — all that I seek at this time is an installment that finds a plot somehow rooted in character (and not in unmotivated relationship trappings, guest star gimmicks, or broad stories that don’t even utilize the bus station workplace construct with which the series is supposed to work). And while this entry benefits from the promotable appearances of Jimmie Walker (as Dexter’s dad) and Paul Willson (as an actor playing John’s father), the story is centered on John’s relationship with his pop, and Dexter’s relationship with his. It’s therefore founded in character and more solid than most of its competition.
02) Episode 78: “Isosceles Love Triangle” (Aired: 10/30/96)
John teaches Eggers how to get a man, not knowing she wants him.
Written by Will Gluck
I’ve selected this installment to be my MVE (Most Valuable Episode), but this is mostly a formality — I had to label one outing here as being the best, and this is the least offensive. If you’ve been reading prior lists, you know I have a complicated history with Eggers’ character, for while she was always nobly tasked with adding humor, she was also more broadly designed and played than her cohorts — and that was jarring. But at this point, she fits right in with the new style, and whenever a story at least makes an effort to give her some humanity, as this entry does, she becomes a comedic asset… And though the idea of her romancing John is dreadful (because he’s already been involved with two of the show’s other female regulars), her feelings are buyable — heck, they date back to Season One, so they’re based in what we know of her characterization. Thus, this — the last excursion broadcast on network television — works.
03) Episode 82: “Humble Pi” (Aired: Syndication Only)
John tutors the terminal’s employees when they have to take a test.
Written by Will Gluck
One of the six episodes that were never seen in the original broadcast run and made their debuts in syndication, this entry is only here because it employs a Victory in Premise: John having to tutor all the employees at the bus station when they must take a test in order to get a reduced insurance rate, only to learn that he’s not exempt either and must join them. Because there’s actual, believable interactions among the ensemble — like an in-character bit between John and Dexter when the former points out the racist undertones of their grammar exercise — this installment’s comedy seems classier and more laudable than the rest of the laugh-driven, but less character-poised material evidenced in Four. Simply: there’s a lot worse this year.
Other episodes that merit mention here include: the season premiere, “Untying The Knot,” which is credited to showrunner Mitchell Hurwitz and is designed to resolve the cliffhanger and get Alison LaPlaca off the show, “The Blues Traveller,” which separates John and Carly (sans proper motivation) but is otherwise built to accommodate a centerpiece involving the gimmicky guest appearance of Ray Charles… and two more unbroadcast outings, “When Yussel Learned To Yodel,” which only exists for the one comedic idea of Dexter rapping a variation of an old Yiddish song, and “Pandora’s Box,” which is listed in online guides as the last installment, even though it was produced as the year’s second. It’s the only offering I don’t have in my collection. Instead, I have a script, which reveals the outing to be a narratively important one; it addresses Carly’s past as a hooker in her new relationship with John, establishes that Catherine’s gone and Carly’s forced to resume working in the bar, and reveals that John and Carly’s marriage wasn’t valid, thus setting up a scenario where they’ll just be “engaged.” The disrupted continuity, courtesy of NBC, is particularly glaring without this episode going in between the first two broadcast entries.
*** The MVE Award for the Best Episode from Season Four of The John Larroquette Show goes to…..
“Isosceles Love Triangle”
ANNOUNCEMENT! Our coverage of Mad About You has been preempted for a five-week series of reruns. Designed to give yours truly some time to finish this semester in style, and then load more upcoming “best of” lists into the blog’s queue, these upcoming posts will be a FIRST in our nearly five-year Sitcom Tuesday run. Regular programming will resume on May 22nd, but in the meantime, I’m excited to go back into the archives and re-share five entries first published here between 2014 and 2016. My intention is to provide a link to each original piece and then offer a tiny bit of updated commentary, either on episode picks I’d call differently today (like in my famous “Regrets” post) or on something broader, like evolving thoughts on the year/series as a whole. I’ve picked a few goodies, so I hope you’ll be as excited as I am about revisiting some of our favorites. See the “Coming Attractions” page for an updated look at what’s ahead.
Come back next week for the start of our rerun series! And tune in tomorrow for another Wildcard Wednesday!