Welcome to a new Sitcom Tuesday! Coverage of Scrubs will begin next week. In the meantime, I’m bringing back the “Clip Show” format to revisit a few series discussed here over the last ten years. Specifically, I’m looking at five episodes from single-season multi-camera sitcoms that premiered during the 2000s — when the single-camera alternative rose in prominence, in large part because the decade’s multi-cam offerings were not as good as they should have been. These five examples vary in quality, but they’re collectively among this subcategory’s best…
Episode 6: “The Crier” (Aired: 11/15/00)
Jim inspires Marsha to try showing a little more sensitivity in the office.
Written by Gigi McCreery & Perry Rein | Directed by Will Mackenzie
This sitcom about the unique professional relationship between a Midwestern transplant (Jim Gaffigan) and a hard-boiled New Yorker (Christine Baranski) as they work together on a local morning show is funnier when it’s a straightforward ensemble workplace comedy, as opposed to a trite fish-out-of-water effort filled with personal stories that fail to pack a comedic punch. In just 16 episodes, it never fully gels into reliable excellence on a weekly basis, but there’s a lot of potential in the raw materials, both because of its sharp cast and the possibilities suggested by two comic leads who are quintessential opposites. This particular episode is my favorite — for it explores interoffice dynamics, primarily with the two main characters, and in a narrative that’s both fresh and funny. So, based on a half-hour sample like this, Welcome To New York stands out as an above-average multi-cam flop from the early ’00s — one that could have become great.
Episode 9: “Thanks, But No Thanks” (Aired: 11/26/03)
Mace doesn’t tell his visiting mother about his future in-laws’ sexual orientation.
Written by Anne Flett-Giordano & Chuck Ranberg | Directed by Barnet Kellman
Designed with the classic comic tension of the blended family, pulled together as usual by a central couple who individually come from two wildly different clans, It’s All Relative commits the cardinal sin of most sitcoms in this subcategory: its lovers are bland and thus inert. Fortunately, their two contrasting families — one upper-class and gay, the other blue-collar and conservative — pick up the slack… well, in the beginning. That is, the show stops exploring their conflicts in narrative as the season progresses and an inevitable wedding draws near — shedding premise-backed character concerns for story trappings anchored by the lovers, who are the least defined. As such, this is a sitcom that becomes less promising as it goes along. But with a terrific writing staff (including creators Anne Flett-Giordano and Chuck Ranberg of Frasier) and a solid cast (including Harriet Sansom Harris of Frasier), there are some winning early installments. In fact, I highlighted three in a potpourri piece — specifically, the Thanksgiving entry, a classic farce where both families are caught lying about their prospective in-laws.
Episode 18: “Don’t Hide Love” (Aired: 03/23/04)
Mavis has a Republican convention and a lesbian wedding booked for the same day.
Written by Alison McDonald | Directed by Terry Hughes
With a Lear-ian interest in exploring the sociopolitical issues of the day — or at least, talking about them — this sitcom vehicle for Whoopi Goldberg can sometimes feel like an extended sketch gone bad, particularly when its diverse cast is pigeonholed into being clichéd joke-spouting stereotypes rather than multi-dimensional story-providers. In my 2019 essay, I noted how the series also struggled to settle on a central relationship that could be its emotional core, before nevertheless managing to stumble into a decent comedic rhythm with the establishment of Whoopi’s, or Mavis’, poker group — a proto-The View that marries didactic aims to individual characterizations. Okay, Whoopi (from the producers of That ’70s Show) is always a complicated affair, but it’s got a great star at its center and is often very funny — especially in the entry cited above, which emphasizes the rapport between Mavis and her brother in a story that’s both predicated on the lead’s history and takes advantage of the series’ topical nature.
Episode 11: “New Year’s Eve” (Aired: 12/19/05)
Lydia unknowingly invites Crystal’s father to a New Year’s party.
Written by Joe Keenan | Directed by Philip Charles Mackenzie
If the other sitcoms on this brief list were imperfect but revealed promise that could have allowed them to develop into greatness had they been given more time, Out Of Practice is the only one that’s already great. Christopher Lloyd and Joe Keenan — the two best writers from Frasier — present a smart low-concept situation that’s ripe with character, centered on a trio of young adult doctors (among them Ty Burrell) whose status quo has changed now that their parents (Stockard Channing and Henry Winkler) have split, since dad left mom for a younger woman (played by the divine Jennifer Tilly). Each of the three kids is capably delineated, and that strong, specific relationship between the parents encourages comedic, premise-affirming story. What’s more, with Frasier vets on staff and a cast of similarly elite regulars, the show is tonally able to offer episodic farces, propelled by well-defined characters who have clear motivations. That’s evident in this excursion — a terrific romp in which the siblings compete over the same woman at a New Year’s party, and their mom unknowingly shows up with their dad’s girlfriend’s father (Barry Bostwick). It’s a riot — as good as a Frasier, and proof of why Out Of Practice is not only the best on this list, but a series that deserved better from its network.
Episode 14: “Chuck And Kelly: Doin’ It Again” (Aired: 05/14/08)
Chuck and Kelly’s plan to go public with their news is halted by a new ad campaign.
Teleplay by Steven Levitan & Jeffrey Richman | Story by Chuck Tatham | Directed by James Burrows
Back To You’s calling card is its great cast of sitcom stalwarts — specifically, Kelsey Grammer, Patricia Heaton, and Fred Willard (along with Modern Family’s Ty Burrell and Josh Gad) — all of whom are better than this setup: an ensemble workplace comedy, also set in the TV news world, but anchored by a unique high-concept relationship. That is, Grammer and Heaton play former newscasters who share a secret — he’s the father of her child. The first season’s narrative engine is this secret’s eventual public reveal, and it’s a conceptual hook that provides something of an emotional framework for an otherwise jokey series that works best when exploring the comedic bonds within its ace ensemble. This, the show’s final aired episode, is the culmination of that central arc, but more importantly, it’s the funniest, combining humor and heart the most artfully, while showing off a cast of folks who’ve all been better utilized elsewhere but are always worthwhile. (Oh, and it’s from the scribes who’d go on to Modern Family, so it’s probably a good thing this one didn’t run too long — for pretty much everyone involved!)
Come back next week for Scrubs! And stay tuned tomorrow for a new Wildcard!