Welcome to a new Wildcard Wednesday! This week, I’m sharing thoughts on Ellen DeGeneres’ second self-titled sitcom, the single-season The Ellen Show, which is currently available on DVD and Amazon Prime. 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…
THE ELLEN SHOW (Sept 2001 – Jan 2002, CBS)
Premise: A failed dot-com executive settles back into her old hometown — taking a job at her former high school and moving back in with her mother (and sister).
Cast: Ellen DeGeneres, Jim Gaffigan, Emily Rutherfurd, Martin Mull, Kerri Kenney, Diane Delano, and Cloris Leachman
Writers: Carol Leifer & Mitchell Hurwitz, Ric Swartzlander, Chuck Martin, Rob LaZebnik, Darin Henry, Sue Kolinsky, Jim Gerkin, Harold Kimmel, Bill Kelley, Chuck Tatham
Thoughts: Ellen DeGeneres returned to the sitcom genre in The Ellen Show, bearing in mind the central criticism leveled at her previous series at the end of its run — that it was “too gay.” As we have explored, that’s not quite a fair assessment — we want every sitcom to explore its “situation” in story, and all parts of her character should be fair game. The problem with the end of Ellen was that it was too exclusively gay (see more). Well, The Ellen Show takes things to the opposite extreme — never using its lead’s orientation for story and giving it only a quick mention every other week. It’s so blatantly downplayed that it doesn’t feel totally true to the character. A balance between the two shows’ styles would have been preferable… At any rate, The Ellen Show, like its predecessor, is centered around an affable star whose comic persona is rooted in her stand-up origins, and she’s just as charming here as she was there. The premise crafted by creators Carol Leifer and Mitchell Hurwitz — two excellent scribes with a terrific sitcom pedigree — is nevertheless exceptionally lame: the old “hometown return.” There will be no points for originality awarded to this series’ construction, which checks all the familiar boxes. However, these great writers offer funnier ideas than such a premise typically warrants (like a recurring cop named “B. Arthur”), and the ensemble cast is even better than the previous, with Jim Gaffigan and Emily Rutherfurd granting comic shape to predictable roles, Kerri Kenney developing into a wonderful purveyor of unique laughs as the kooky home ec teacher, and genius comedic legends Martin Mull and Cloris Leachman elevating their material significantly. Truthfully, neither Mull nor Leachman are maximized like they could be, but their presence is additive, even in the periphery. Unfortunately, the dully premised series’ low popularity necessitated a lot of ratings-seeking stunts (like guest appearances by Betty White and Mary Tyler Moore) that are elementally notable but preclude scripts from really developing/exploring these lead characters and their relationships in story. That is, never does The Ellen Show feel like it’s truly content with what it has at its regular disposal, and that’s a shame, for the individual elements here are good — even if the overall package (the lame premise) probably holds them back, keeping the series from greatness. Hey, that sounds a lot like Ellen.
Episode Count: 18 episodes produced; 13 broadcast.
Episodes Seen: All 18 episodes.
Key Episodes: #4: “Vanity Hair” (10/12/01)
#5: “The Move” (10/19/01)
#6: “Muskrat Love” (10/26/01)
#7: “Joe” (11/02/01)
#9: “Missing The Bus” (11/16/01)
#11: “Ellen’s First Christmess” (12/17/01)
#15: “Gathering Moss” (Syndication Only)
#17: “Where The Sun Doesn’t Shine” (Syndication Only)
Why: #4 offers the comedic idea of Ellen unknowingly getting her hair done by a pet groomer (it’s very contrived and has nothing to do with the “situation” but it’s memorable); #5 boasts the best exploration of the dynamic between Ellen and her mother and sister – probably the best overall script; #6 is a good showing for the community at large; #7 has an easy comic idea and guests Tom Poston; #9 guests Betty White; #11 guests Mary Tyler Moore; #15 guests John Ritter; and #17 notably takes us to the home of the eccentric Pat (Kerri Kenney).
Come back next week for a new Wildcard Wednesday! And stay tuned Tuesday for Becker!