Sophistication on FOX? No, Not Really: A Look at FLYING BLIND

Welcome to a new Wildcard Wednesday! In this week’s post, I’m sharing my thoughts on the short-lived Flying Blind, which ran for 22 episodes on FOX during the 1992-’93 season. Scheduled in the sitcom’s no-man’s-land of 10:00, and in between Herman’s Head (1991-1994), an underrated show I’d like to cover here at some point, and Woops! (1991), a brief post-apocalyptic comedy that was doomed before it began, Flying Blind seemed ideal for coverage at this point because it was part of an interesting trend that was especially hot in 1992-’93: the couple comedy (or “couple-com”). Although the husband-wife/boy-girl series (sans kids in this sub-category) has always been sitcom fodder, this particular year seemed to produce a higher volume of efforts. In addition to FOX’s Flying Blind, CBS offered two variations in Linda Bloodworth-Thomason’s politically charged Hearts Afire (1992-1995) and Diane English’s sentimentally inclined Love & War (1992-1995) — discussed here last year — while NBC, of course, had the series we’re discussing on Sitcom Tuesdays, Mad About You (1992-1999). I don’t have to tell you which of these four I consider the most worthy of our attention.

However, Flying Blind, not yet on DVD, is particularly noteworthy because it was surprisingly well-received — for a FOX show — and was considered by many critics “sophisticated” — again, for a FOX show. A typical response to the premiere is evidenced by this review from People‘s Ken Tucker, who gave the pilot a B+ and succinctly summed up the plot, stating: “Corey (thirtysomething) Parker plays a nice bourgeois Jewish boy who has just started, with some ambivalence, a corporate marketing job his father got him. Then he meets a flighty, sexy girl (Téa Leoni) who drags him into a bohemian, anything-goes demimonde. Suddenly Parker finds himself torn between two worlds—the office and the all-night party—neither of which he feels comfortable in. Parker brings an amusing, Woody Allen—like tone to the role, and Leoni is a fetching firecracker. The show may never again attain the sustained comic brilliance of last week’s pilot. But this is a rarity for Fox: a sophisticated and clever sitcom.” With many respected critics echoing similar thoughts and praising the show as such, I wanted to see if Flying Blind could live up to the hype. Spoiler alert: It doesn’t.

But before we get into all that, let me give you more of the low-down. In addition to the central couple, Parker and Leoni, playing typical opposites — he: buttoned-down Neil, she: barely clothed Alicia — Flying Blind‘s regular ensemble featured Neil’s nebbish father, Jeremy (Michael Tucci, you may remember him from It’s Garry Shandling’s Show), his ambitious co-worker, Ted (Marcus Giamatti), and Alicia’s two roommates, eccentric Megan (Clea Lewis, soon of Ellen) and the nebulously defined Jordan (Robert Bauer), whose existence is solely to point out that — gasp — Alicia is so sexually free to be living with a man! Recurring cast members included Cristine Rose as Neil’s mother, who appeared in six of the first 12 episodes, and two characters who were added later in the run, when Neil changed careers and followed his dream of going into filmmaking: SNL‘s Charles Rocket as a director (and Alicia’s ex-husband) and Mary Woronov as Neil’s new boss (and a former porn star). Notable guests included Wings‘ Thomas Haden Church as Alicia’s domineering painter ex and Everybody Loves Raymond‘s Peter Boyle as Alicia’s hard-boiled spy father, both of whom appeared twice.

The series was created and executive produced by Richard Rosenstock (Laverne & Shirley, Mork & Mindy, The Marshall Chronicles, The Big Bang Theory, Arrested Development), and regular writers included Ellen Byron & Lissa Kapstrom (Wings, Jenny, Still Standing, Just Shoot Me!), Bob Stevens (Night Court, The Wonder Years, Dear John, Murphy Brown, Malcolm In The Middle), Terri Minsky (Doctor Doctor, Sex And The City, Lizzie McGuire, Less Than Perfect), Michael Borkow (Roseanne, Friends, Malcolm In The Middle, Mom), and Mark Reisman (Dear John, Wings, Frasier, Jenny, The Exes). Douglas Wyman (Barney Miller, Family Ties, Newhart, Davis Rules, Murphy Brown) was Co-EP for 12 episodes following the pilot, only to then be replaced in the back nine by Tom Maxwell and Don Woodard (Room For Two, Dream On, Just Shoot Me!), who joined at the same time as Rick Copp & David A. Goodman (The Golden Girls, Babes, Rhythm And Blues, Wings; Goodman only: Stark Raving Mad, Futurama, Family Guy). Linwood Boomer (Silver Spoons, Night Court, 3rd Rock From The Sun, Malcolm In The Middle) was a credited consultant.

When I screened two episodes of Flying Blind several years ago to assess whether it would be suitable for future coverage, I was enthused. This seemed to be a screamingly funny series with laughs as bold as Married… With Childrens, but alongside a sense of contemporary romance that both harkened back to the Barefoot In The Park-inspired couple-coms of the ’60s (Love On A Rooftop, Occasional Wife, He & She, etc.) and looked forward to the optimistic relationship-driven material that would soon be prized on NBC’s Must See TV Thursday (Mad About You, Friends, Caroline In The City, etc.). I can’t say it was “sophisticated” — its theme may have reminded of sophisticated programming, but its tone certainly wasn’t — but it did fulfill its primary objective: entertainment. So, when Herman’s Head coverage was placed on the back burner — thus seemingly delaying Flying Blind‘s Wednesday appearance — I decided that this series’ subject matter made it a suitable companion for Mad About You, too… However, when I sat down to watch all 22 episodes in early 2018, I was disappointed — not because my initial observations were invalid (no, the show was still screamingly funny and it still offered an interesting take on the “couple-com”), but because that’s all there was to it.

What am I saying? Well, the show has big laughs and an engaging premise — a classic clash of opposites within a seemingly more frank look at the sex lives of young singles in the big city — but when it comes to character, I’m afraid there isn’t a lot there, for everyone’s painted in broad strokes: so big, bold, and extreme, that a nice counterbalancing dose of relatable, genuine humanity is required… and then not delivered. It’s the exact opposite of Mad About You! These characters are caricatures, and while it’s easy when just watching an episode or two to ignore the problem because of both the rapid-fire jokey scripting and the general leeway we extend to new series, when you’re eight episodes into the run, and everyone — Leoni and Parker, included — is still being directed towards his/her next laugh with not a lot of grounded realism in support, this becomes a more glaring issue. (If you’re wondering why this is a problem on Flying Blind and not, say, Married… With Children, I think the latter was clear about its satirical intentions, and didn’t make us expect emotional depth. When dealing with a show whose stories are to be motivated by characters in a relationship, more dimensionality is needed. Again, it’s the exact opposite problem faced by the comically muted Mad About You.)

I was so turned-off by this lack of character work that I almost didn’t make it past the first 13 episodes. But when I stuck it out, I started to see improvement — mostly on two-fronts. The first front is structural; the series wrests Neil from his office job in episode 14, and then puts him in the avant garde filmmaking world, with more “out there” recurring characters and stories. This, instead of having the anticipated effect of further broadening the show and these regulars, actually contextualizes their extremes and makes them look more realistic and relatable in comparison. Additionally, this gives the writers better, and more fun, ideas with which to play. The second front is emotional; with more time spent in these players’ spaces, a natural bond begins to form between character and scribe, and by proxy, character and audience. So, although I think the show still doesn’t make this investment easy — despite a concerted effort to tone down some of its outrageousness (phasing out the mom and Neil’s family, making Alicia more emotionally available and less joke-driven, and giving Neil story outside of Alicia) in the “back nine” — I have to admit that Flying Blind does find a way to make me care about the characters beyond its laughs. I still maintain that they lack nuance and depth, but now I can also say that Flying Blind — while not living up to the hype — also has some legitimate merit. (Unfortunately, it aired 10:00 on a Sunday night, a terrible time to build an audience.)

Now, I could go through a list of seven favorite episodes with info, pictures, and commentary — which is what I initially planned. But, because my study indicated that Flying Blind was never more enjoyable than when only one offering was allowed to represent the series’ inherent strengths and all its presumed possibilities, I’m just going to share my favorite installment. First, however, because I did take the time to decide what I consider the series’ most rewarding/memorable, here’s a no-frills bullet-point list for those who are gung-ho to see more:

  • Episode 01: “Pilot” (Aired: 09/13/92) – see what the critics saw: big laughs, “sophisticated” premise
  • Episode 09: “The Heartbreak Id” (Aired: 11/08/92) – an episode that first made me think Flying Blind was better than it was
  • Episode 12: “Dad” (Aired: 12/13/92) – Peter Boyle debuts as Alicia’s father — his presence is script-elevating
  • Episode 16: “Escape To New York” (Aired: 03/07/93) – the most believable and human Neil and Alicia ever are; a favorite
  • Episode 17: “My Dinner With Brad Schimmel” (Aired: 03/14/93) – SEE BELOW
  • Episode 18: “Unforgiving” (Aired: 03/21/93) – an entry that uses Clea Lewis well and tries to be relationship-based
  • Episode 19: “The Bride Of Marsh Man 2: The Spawning” (Aired: 03/28/93) – the new filmmaking premise is used comically

The installment I’m sharing with you is the above mentioned “My Dinner With Brad Schimmel,” which was written by Rick Copp & David A. Goodman and directed by MTM’s Stan Daniels. The premise has Neil using Alicia to impress his old snobby friend (Bradley White, later to have an arc on Mad About You), who, incidentally, is engaged to be married to a young lady played by Lisa Kudrow (of two series we’re covering this year on Tuesdays, Mad About You and Friends). I like this excursion best because it boasts a comedic teleplay that utilizes the central relationship in a way that makes them seem human and true, while also building to an amusing and appropriately humorous climax (in which Kudrow shines).



Come back next Wednesday for another Wildcard post! And tune in Tuesday for more Mad About You!