Welcome to a new Wildcard Wednesday… which I’m counting as an extra Sitcom Tuesday, for I’m sharing thoughts on a short-lived series that, well, I wouldn’t say is on the level of most Sitcom Tuesday offerings — mainly because it didn’t run long enough — but it’s certainly among the best I’ve ever examined for inclusion in a Potpourri piece. And for that reason, like Best Of The West, I wanted to give it its own post… As you’ll note, I’m retaining the straightforward casual structure of my commentary as it would have appeared in a Potpourri entry (because the brevity is clarifying), but make no mistake — this is one of those rare “diamonds in the rough” of which sitcom archeologists like me wish there were more…
Also, if you haven’t shared your opinions yet in our annual survey, please do so now — it’ll close next Wednesday (March 22)! https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/H6VH65Z
ALMOST PERFECT (Sept 1995 – Oct 1996, CBS)
Premise: A busy TV writer falls for a busy district attorney.
Cast: Nancy Travis, Kevin Kilner, David Clennon, Matthew Letscher, Chip Zien, Mary Jo Smith, Lisa Edelstein, Sarah Ann Morris
Writers: Robin Schiff and Ken Levine & David Isaacs, Victor Fresco, Mike Teverbaugh & Linda Teverbaugh, Ken Estin, Carol Leifer, Drew Vaupen & Phil Baker, Sue Herring, Larry Balmagia, George McGrath, Larry Spencer & Vicki S. Horwitz, Jenny Bicks, Phoef Sutton, Rob Long & Dan Staley, Dave Hackel
Thoughts: Helmed by the great Ken Levine & David Isaacs (of Cheers and Frasier), Almost Perfect was conceived as a rom-com couple show with a pronounced workplace component centered around Nancy Travis as the leading lady, a new executive producer of a police procedural called “Blue Justice.” Stories primarily focused on her budding relationship with a hunky district attorney (Kevin Kilner) who was just as busy in his career as she was in hers, with regular conflict coming from how both of their professions (and hers especially) intruded on their new romance. It’s a fertile layout for a show, boasting a centralized relationship as an emotional engine, along with the opportunity for ever-popular show biz satire in the TV writers’ room — perhaps a clichéd setup (particularly from our vantage point), but one well-applied by people who know it intimately. Indeed, this is an incredibly well-written sitcom, with the first season following the trajectory of the romance, and naturally finding relatable story from the leads’ growing closeness. What’s more, scripts are able to mine a lot of specific ideas related to the TV industry that feel fresh and funny. Most importantly, though, true to the Levine & Isaacs form, there are rich characters — not just the three very distinct writers working underneath Nancy Travis at the show (with Chip Zien being a particular standout), but Travis’ Kim is also a ball of hyper, nervous, entitled, self-consumed energy — and not exaggeratedly so, but believably, grounded in realism and yet still capable of driving laughs and plot. She has a fine rapport with Kilner as her love interest Mike — and their romance is buyable because of their chemistry.
However, if there’s one weakness with Almost Perfect it is the Mike character — he’s designed as the temperamental opposite of Kim. But instead of projecting precise comic traits that clash against hers, he’s often relegated to “too good to be true” straight man, with little chance to motivate laughs or story independently of her. Now, it’s not a big problem, but when everyone on the cast — including the recurring Lisa Edelstein as Zien’s wife — has a clear persona, he stands out… after all, he’s the male lead. The network apparently considered him a weak link too, for the mandate of a second season renewal was that he be dropped, allowing Kim to become single. Levine & Isaacs have since gone on record saying what a mistake this was — taking away the core aspect of the series’ “situation” and its emotional heart. And to a certain extent, they’re right, for while CBS correctly identified a weakness, the network didn’t accurately pinpoint why or give a solution. In my opinion, the show simply needed to cultivate a stronger personality for his character and make his world a little more equal to hers. This wouldn’t have been impossible — especially with writers of this caliber… scribes so good that, even without the central relationship, the ten episodes produced for Season Two (only four of which were broadcast) are just as funny as the earlier ones — maybe a little more idea-driven, with amusing episodic notions dominating… but, again, populated by strong characters rooted in some autobiographical truth. So, Almost Perfect is well, almost perfect throughout its run and I can finally confirm that I agree: it’s a gem that deserved more care and appreciation, for this kind of character work — with smart comic writing and performances — is rare.
Episode Count: 34 episodes produced over two seasons; 28 broadcast.
Episodes Seen: All 34.
Key Episodes (of Seen): #1: “Pilot” [a.k.a. “I’m Gregory Peck”] (09/17/95)
#5: “Your Place Or Mine?” (10/15/95)
#8: “The Lost Weekend (I)” (11/19/95)
#11: “Love Hurts” (12/10/95)
#15: “El Pollo Loco” (02/11/96)
#16: “Auto Neurotic” (02/18/96)
#18: “Suites For The Sweet” (03/04/96)
#20: “Lights, Camera, Mike?” (03/18/96)
#23: “Moving In (II)” (04/15/96)
#24: “It’s A Wrap!” (04/22/96)
#26: “Shelf Doubt” (10/16/96)
#27: “Good Grief” (10/23/96)
#28: “Heaven’s Helper” (10/30/96)
#29: “Dating For Ratings” (Syndication Only)
#30: “Where No Woman Has Gone Before” (Syndication Only)
#34: “This Is What Happens When You Don’t Watch PBS” (Syndication Only)
Why: #1 claims a hilarious script and a great setup for the situation; #5 follows a relatable relationship milestone and provides Nancy Travis with some riotous physical centerpieces; #8 introduces the recurring Lisa Edelstein; #11 is a couple-focused show with some physical comedy; #15 has the amusing idea of Kim trying to cook for the first time; #16 is a solid workplace entry guest starring Tony Shalhoub; #18 boasts a perfect narrative example of how Kim’s career intrudes on her personal life; #20 brings Mike to the set (literally) for a big comic centerpiece; #23 enjoys a wonderful scene where Kim is stuck in an elevator with Bonnie Franklin as Mike’s disapproving mom; and #24 is a terrific ensemble show that ends in a pie fight. From Season Two, #26 includes memorable fantasy scenes; #27 climaxes in a misunderstanding at a pet grief support group — a funny idea; #28 guests Marie Osmond and is a showcase for Chip Zien; #29 offers fun industry satire when Kim dates a man simply because he’s a Nielsen viewer; #30 sets up another unique set piece where Kim is looking for a man with a stain on his crotch; and #34 uses a misunderstanding with a pornstar when Kim tries to make her new boss (a former flame and new potential love interest) jealous.
Come back next week for a new Wildcard! And stay tuned Monday for another musical rarity!