Welcome to a new Sitcom Tuesday! This week, we’re concluding our coverage on the best of The Drew Carey Show (1995-2004, ABC). Unfortunately, only the first season has been released on DVD. But as of this publication, you can find reruns on Laff!
The Drew Carey Show stars DREW CAREY as Drew Carey, DIEDRICH BADER as Oswald Harvey, RYAN STILES as Lewis Kiniski, KATHY KINNEY as Mimi Bobeck, and CYNTHIA WATROS as Kellie Newmark. JONATHAN MANGUM and KAITLIN OLSON recur.
Every time we reach the end of a long-running series on this blog, I’m more than ready to move on — and that’s especially true for the shows that outlived their natural lifespans initially, like The Drew Carey Show. At this point, I’ve pretty much exhausted all my commentary, for just as we discussed last week, although the series was smart enough to recognize that its premise needed significant retooling both at home and in the workplace — and indeed made changes that I would classify as smart and commendable — the simple truth is that our emotional interest has declined over the years and we are therefore unable to invest in the series’ new elements with the same vigor that we once had for everything during its best era… In other words, no matter how good the show may still be, the fact that it’s been declining, and declining for so long, has really tried our patience… Of course, it doesn’t help that Season Nine is a big drop-off from Eight — which makes any notions of our being resistant to maintained quality moot because quality isn’t maintained… even though there are good decisions being made that speak to a healthy sense of self-awareness. For instance, the show realizes that the new office isn’t as conducive to great story as hoped (not because it isn’t structurally well-designed, but rather because we don’t care enough about those people), so it trims the number of recurring players there and limits its prominence in story. This helps the season focus on Drew’s personal life, and while I still believe this to be an unideal balance, it makes sense to give the personal life extra play this go-‘round, for the year knows that it must conclude its primary character’s emotional arc, and so it dedicates itself to doing just that — pairing him with Kellie and laying out a story that concludes with the birth of their baby and the start of a family: a physical symbol of Drew’s growth and something he’s wanted on and off for years.
As was the case with many ideas from last season, this is smart and — on paper — represents a great form of character-based writing. And, once again, I appreciate the continued mitigation of gimmicks in favor of genuine character arcs — like Mimi having to move in with Drew after Steve leaves (for good) and her house burns down, which makes for a great final story with former enemies Drew and Mimi (and it’s a way to keep her engaged at home as the office becomes less visible). However, the Drew/Kellie/baby stories are really hit-and-miss, and part of the problem is, still, both the lack of suspense (we know where it’s ending) and the purposeful prolonging of anticipated big developments (until the finale) — not just the birth, but also Drew and Kellie’s wedding. So, while there are a couple of interesting shows spawned from the overarching story — like the introduction of her forever warring parents — the big character arc that anchors the season doesn’t end up emotionally satisfying as it could and should… in the same way that it would have, say, two or three years ago when we cared more. But c’est la vie — the show ends decently enough (more on the finale below), given the circumstances… Yes, that brings us now to how ABC handled the end of the series. Although it moved the show back to its Wednesday home, the network decided to save it until the summer, where two episodes would be burned off every week… and in an odd order that totally wrecked continuity. You’ll notice on the list that I, as always, have listed (and numbered) entries based on the sequence in which they were actually broadcast…Yet because certain developments — like the death of Drew’s dad, Mimi moving in with Drew, Kellie announcing her pregnancy, Oswald buying the Warsaw, etc. — occur wildly out-of-order if you watch by airdate, I suggest seeing the year as it was first produced, with two exceptions…
A) The final four episodes work best in the sequence they were telecast, and B) “Sealed In A Kiss” should be moved to where it originally aired due to the wraparound scenes that were filmed after principal photography was done on the entry — it’s the year’s sole effort to smooth over ABC’s continuity issues, thus locking the offering into its new chronological place. (Click here to see the production order, alongside my slightly tweaked variation.) Watching them (mostly) in the sequence they were made makes a specific observation clearer: that the first half (well, slightly less) of the season was shot single-camera. It’s jarring, actually — there are lots of handheld shots and the performances are muted without the energy of an audience… Fortunately, the show goes back to its old ways for the latter half of its output (scattering the earlier episodes throughout the schedule), but I suppose the single-cam experiment was just an example of Drew Carey trying again to shake things up and think outside the box — something it used to do so well in its glory days, when “anything could happen” and the show knew that part of its success came from making sure both the workplace and the home remained fertile grounds for comedic story. The characters weren’t terribly well-defined, but they were relatable and funny, and they all had chemistry. We cared about them… Sadly, those glory days are long past, and everyone knows it; Nine is a year that only exists because ABC made a stupid deal in 2001 that ignored the trend. And it’s because of this longevity that we resent the series today more than we should… Yet, I blame no one but the series. After all, this year isn’t as good as the eight that came before… However, for those who count themselves as loyal viewers (like myself), who’ll stick it out no matter what, I have mustered another list of favorites — this time, eight. I believe, as always, these episodes exemplify the season’s finest.
This year’s writers include: David A. Caplan (Dinosaurs, Norm, George Lopez, Roseanne), Dan O’Keefe (Seinfeld, The League, Silicon Valley), Russ Woody (Murphy Brown, Mad About You, Cybill, Becker), Mitch Hunter & Jana Hunter (According To Jim, The Middle), Dean Young (Mad About You, King Of The Hill, Community), Julie Ann Larson (Dharma & Greg, Last Man Standing), and Hugh Fink (Saturday Night Live, The Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson).
01) Episode 208: “Drew Hunts Silver Fox” (Aired: 06/02/04)
Drew and Oswald both want to set up their mothers with the same man.
Written by Russ Woody | Directed by Sam Simon | Prod. Order: 219
Deemed the funniest pre-pregnancy show — probably because it was one of the first episodes (if not the first episode) produced for Season Nine that looks like it was shot from beginning to end in the traditional multi-cam style — the year’s official premiere makes this list only because of a Victorious Premise that utilizes two of the show’s recurring charmers, Marion Ross and Adrienne Barbeau, playing Drew and Oswald’s mothers, respectively. The amusing plot has the boys competing over which one gets to set his mom up with the eponymous “silver fox,” played by Mitchell Ryan. (You’ll note that Ross’ Beulah is now a widow — the two entries dealing with Drew’s dad’s death were aired later in the season, making for some screwy continuity.)
02) Episode 212: “At Your Cervix” (Aired: 06/16/04)
Drew goes to Kellie’s parents after she says she doesn’t want to marry.
Written by Jana Hunter & Mitch Hunter | Directed by Brian K. Roberts | Prod. Order: 220
The pregnancy arc (along with the flimsy excuse for why Kellie won’t marry Drew… yet) officially begins here in this installment, which was chosen to air in week three as the season’s fifth half-hour excursion (even though there were eight pre-pregnancy shows left to be broadcast at the time). As with the above, there’s a rather simple reason this one makes my list: it introduces Kellie’s parents, played hilariously by Michael Gross and Susan Sullivan. Depicted broadly — but true to the expectations set about them in the year prior — these two enliven several of this year’s stories, and although their debut probably uses them the most satisfyingly, they’re always one of the freshest things about this otherwise stale ninth season.
03) Episode 222: “Baby Face” (Aired: 07/21/04)
Drew has trouble making love to Kellie after seeing their baby’s ultrasound.
Written by Masha Tivyan | Directed by Bob Koherr | Prod. Order: 230
As the only script credited to Masha Tivyan, a freelancer who earlier had won top prize at Drew Carey’s 2003 Short Film Festival, this episode feels a little more energetic and creative than its contemporaries… even though its inclusion here hinges on another singular aspect: the CGI of Drew’s unborn baby, which talks to him and keeps him from being able to make love to Kellie. It’s akin to last year’s CGI turkey and represents a variation on the rule-breaking “anything goes” aura of the earlier years. Yet there’s more to the idea than just that — not only does it yield a wonderful scene in the pregnancy class, but it also stems from a relatable character place: Drew’s insecurities relating to the pending birth of his first child. Solid, funny.
04) Episode 227: “Liar, Liar, House On Fire” (Aired: 08/18/04)
The group lies so Mimi can receive an insurance claim on her house.
Written by Russ Woody | Directed by Drew Carey | Prod. Order: 211
Surprisingly, my choice for the year’s strongest outing is one of only two (from approximately 11) that were shot in the first part of the season sans audience and with a totally distracting and unnecessary single-camera set-up. It was held to air later in the summer, as the second in an hour-long block, following an entry that establishes Mimi as a single woman and then includes the fire that burns down her house and leads her to Drew’s (where she’d already been living in almost every offering broadcast earlier). While the nature of the production here is quite jarring, it’s saved by the funny scripting, which is loaded with character moments. (It also uses Gus as a major part of its story, which is a risky move — y’all remember how I feel about kids in the sitcom — and it still ends up faring well. That’s how you know it’s a winner.) Seinfeld‘s Wayne Knight is terrific as the insurance representative to whom the group lies about the origin of Mimi’s house fire, and Carol Ann Susi is hysterical in a small role as his completely uninterested secretary… Ultimately, this is just the year’s funniest. That’s why it’s my MVE.
05) Episode 228: “Sleeping With The Enemy” (Aired: 08/25/04)
Drew and Kellie realize they’re political opposites.
Written by Ed Lee | Directed by Shelley Jensen | Prod. Order: 214
This is the only other installment from the first single-camera portion of the season to make this list, but unlike my above MVE, this isn’t a superbly written show that manages to overcome the extraneous production techniques that otherwise beleaguer its comedic energy. No, this is technically another Victory In Premise, for it finds a way to introduce conflict between lovebirds Drew and Kellie that isn’t situational or motivated by plot — it’s character-based, as the two realize they have completely different political leanings. Although this isn’t exactly fresh (or handled hilariously), it’s the kind of character-driven storytelling that usually typifies better sitcom writing. Also, the entry uses Carey’s own right-of-center politics, which I think are striking and help embody the show’s (somewhat unique) Midwestern sensibilities.
06) Episode 230: “Love, Sri Lankan Style” (Aired: 09/01/04)
Drew’s plan to reunite Steve and Mimi is complicated by another woman.
Written by Russ Woody | Directed by Bob Koherr | Prod. Order: 231
Former regular John Carroll Lynch’s Steve Carey makes his last appearance — of only two this season — in this offering, which teases the prospect of a reunion with Mimi, and then fascinatingly eschews what would have been a clichéd, unbuyable happy ending and instead closes with Mimi staying with her new boyfriend, Larry, played by former recurring guest Ian Gomez. But while the A-story is notable, it’s really the subplot that earns the show its place here, for the Victorious Premise of Oswald and Lewis competing against Nora (Jane Morris), one of my favorite of Winfred-Louder’s side players, as TupperMaid (guess they couldn’t say Tupperware) salespeople is hysterical, bringing some of the biggest laughs of the year.
07) Episode 232: “The Passion Of The Wick” (Aired: 09/08/04)
Drew needs Wick’s help in opening up a new department store.
Written by Ed Lee | Directed by Shelley Jensen | Prod. Order: 232
Screened as the first half of the series’ final hour-long broadcast, this companion piece to the “Finale” takes care of one half — by now, the lesser half — of Drew Carey‘s premise: the workplace. After conceding that the final two years’ office space wasn’t as viable for story as the show would have liked, the season decides that the only satisfying development would be restoring what we all probably remember best about the series: the Winfred-Louder workroom, with Drew at his desk, Mimi at hers, and Wick in his office. This return to that final classic image is what makes this one a winner, although the narrative machinations of Drew having to find a holy grail-like object is comedic enough. Also, Millicent Martin guests.
08) Episode 233: “Finale” (Aired: 09/08/04)
Drew tries to marry Kellie before their son is born.
Written by Bruce Helford, Clay Graham, and David A. Caplan | Directed by Sam Simon | Prod. Order: 233
Honestly, I think this is a decent finale (on paper) that’s never truly exceptional, but because the series deserves more credit than it gets for knowing what it needed to do (even if it could no longer do it excellently), I’m choosing to highlight it here. Just as the above took care of the office, this one takes care of the personal — reuniting all of the major regulars and recurring characters (minus Steve, who already got closure, and Kate, who gets one non-mention mention in a singular image from the pilot) as Drew and Kellie become parents. The story, of them trying to marry before the baby comes, is an interesting cultural statement — Drew doesn’t want his kid to be a “bastard” — and it speaks to one of the year’s more contrived story points. Nevertheless, there are some laughs and Drew’s character arc is fulfilled.
Other notable episodes that merit mention include: the two that I would have included had I reduced my standards further and opted to select the usual ten, “No Booze For Drew,” which has a Victory In Premise and launches the story in which Oswald buys the Warsaw, and “Knot In The Mood,” which was probably the closest to the above list because of its easily likable story in which Kellie’s mom begins dating Lewis. Of more Honorable Mention quality are “Drew Thinks Inside The Box,” which has a couple of funny moments, “Arrivederci, Italy,” worth watching only for the one single scene with Fred Willard, and “Assault With A Lovely Weapon,” which utilizes a premise that I’m sure many will find amusing.
*** The MVE Award for the Best Episode from Season Nine of The Drew Carey Show goes to…
“Liar, Liar, House On Fire”
Come back next week for Just Shoot Me! Stay tuned tomorrow for a new Wildcard Wednesday!