I’d been teasing a special post that was supposed to “air” on this day, but because there’s one final upcoming piece needed to complete said article, I’m swapping that entry for this one, which was originally supposed to air on the 30th… Thank you for your patience!
Welcome to another Wildcard Wednesday! With coverage of Cheers concluding on Sitcom Tuesdays, today’s entry looks at former cast member Shelley Long’s unsuccessful television comeback vehicle, Good Advice (1993-1994, CBS), which ran for two incomplete seasons in the spring of ’93 and summer of ’94. Six episodes were produced and broadcast for the first season, concluding the week before Long made her return to Cheers in the legendary series finale, and 13 episodes were produced for the second year, which was pushed back from its original October ’93 start date (reportedly due to production delays hinged on Long having contracted a lengthy illness) to May of the following year. Only 10 episodes aired, leaving three unbroadcast. I have all 16 aired episodes (if anyone has the three unaired offerings, please let me know) and today, as we generally do on Wildcard Wednesdays when covering forgotten sitcoms, I’ll be sharing my selections for the series’ best. But first — a little background information.
Good Advice was created by Danny Jacobson (Mad About You; Two Guys, A Girl, And A Pizza Place) and Norma Safford Vela (Designing Women, Life With Bonnie). Long starred as Susan DeRuzza, a marriage counselor who discovers in the pilot that her husband is a longtime serial philanderer. Susan finds comfort (and ribbing) from her work cohorts: George Wyner as chiropractor Artie Cohen (who, as is mentioned in almost every episode, is Jewish) and divorce attorney Jack Harold (Treat Williams), with whom she shares a sexual tension obviously meant to mirror another infamous TV romance. After the pilot, two more regulars were introduced: Estelle Harris, Wyner’s mother, who plays their temporary receptionist, and Lightfield Lewis as the office gofer. Oh yeah, Long had a kid (Ross Malinger) too, but he’s not worth mentioning.
The show’s biggest problem exists within its premise: the marriage counselor who gives great advice but has no luck practicing what she preaches is as cliched as they come. It reeks entirely of sitcom contrivance, and the laughs, if you actually happen to laugh, are cheap and not worthy of acknowledgment, wrung from the story contrivances and not our growing awareness of the characters. Furthermore, the obvious angle between Long and Williams, who like Sam Malone is a lothario, compares lamely to Long’s prior television coupling. (But I can’t really fault it for that.) As a result, the show only works when it breaks away from the narrative-driven aspirations developed in the pilot and its longterm story goals; potential only exists when the comedy loses its log line and focuses instead on the characters and the development of their relationships. From these initial six episodes, the highlight is the introduction of Harris to the main cast — and even then, we’re laughing more because of her innate uniqueness and not so much the character as written. Nevertheless, the four primary adult regulars (Long, Williams, Wyner, and Harris) can elevate material, and despite that perky-but-uncomedic early ’90s CBS style (which typified too many of their shows in this era), there is some evident potential.
Season Two premiered over a year after the first concluded, and the show was slightly retooled. Teri Garr joined the cast as Susan’s older sister Paige Turner, a widow whose failed entrepreneurial pursuits necessitate her taking the vacated receptionist job. However, despite the removal of Harris, the show’s prior gem, the relationship shared between Long and Garr (along with some much needed history) takes its place as the show’s most interesting facet — meaning that one good thing simply replaces another. Meanwhile, Henriette Mantel was added as Susan’s housekeeper (although her introduction episode was pushed back, rescheduled, and then never actually broadcast). The character’s dull from inception, but she does seem to help the show figure out that there’s little to be mined from Susan’s life outside the office. As with Season One, the show continues to work better when Susan’s status as a divorcée is underplayed and her daily interactions with the other members of the ensemble form the crux of the proceedings. Note that the executive producers this year were Michael Patrick King (Sex And The City, The Comeback) and Tom Palmer (Murphy Brown, Mad Men).
The addition of Garr, which is a boost to the series, reminds me a lot of the second season addition of Betty White to Bob (1992-1993, CBS), which aired at the same time on the same network — and was originally intended to be this show’s lead-in for the second season. Unfortunately both shows were canceled after failing to capture a big enough audience in the ’93-’94 season. Good Advice‘s first year Friday night slot was clearly not a prized position, and their return in the summer of ’94, after being pushed from the projected fall premiere, seemed to indicate a forgone conclusion with regard to its fate. Was it a shame that this series never got more of a chance to work itself out? Well, as the show let us spend more time with the core characters, the scripts were starting to improve slightly, however the show was still nowhere near as good as it needed to be in its second season. And I don’t think it could have ever become a series worthy of complete coverage on Sitcom Tuesdays, even if it was renewed for a complete third season. However, Good Advice is good enough to be seen and discussed here (albeit briefly) in this Wednesday post, and the episodes below are the ones I’d most recommend. As usual, they are listed in airing order.
01) Episode 2: “Jack Of Hearts” (Aired: 04/09/93)
Susan advises a philandering married woman, not knowing Jack’s her lover.
Written by Danny Jacobson | Directed by Barnet Kellman
The first episode after the pilot, this installment is chosen here for giving audiences a taste of what the first season will be like on a weekly basis. Also, it sees the introduction of Estelle Harris’ character, and there are easy laughs from her inclusion.
02) Episode 8: “Two Times Twenty” (Aired: 05/30/94)
Susan is depressed on her fortieth birthday.
Written by Peter Tolan | Directed by Alan Rafkin
This is the second episode of the second season, and while there are a few moments of CBS ‘early ’90s cloyingness, this offering is valuable for the funny sequence where the ensemble catches Susan making out with a 28-year-old on a table of cake.
03) Episode 12: “The Gay Divorcee” (Aired: 07/06/94)
A member of the PTA thinks Susan and Henriette are a couple.
Written by Jeanette Collins & Mimi Friedman | Directed by Ted Bessell
Wendie Malick guest stars in this episode as a PTA mom who thinks that Susan and Henriette are a couple, prompting some anticipated, but amusing, beats. This one works mostly because of the premise more than anything else, but a little Malick is always nice.
04) Episode 13: “Making Out Is Hard To Do” (Aired: 07/13/94)
Susan panics when Jack and Paige are caught in the act.
Written by Mimi Friedman & Jeanette Collins | Directed by Michael Lembeck
Of all the offerings from the second season, this one does the most for making a Susan and Jack pairing seem like an inevitable conclusion (should this series be granted the opportunity for more life). There’s a lot of good stuff for Garr here too.
05) Episode 15: “Bill’s As Is” (Aired: 07/27/94)
Susan accidentally throws out the ashes of Paige’s late husband.
Written by Elaine Aronson | Directed by Michael Lembeck
Another episode that wins because of its amusing premise (ashes in sitcoms are funny — they’re dark and morose, but comedically so) and the funny interplay between the two sisters, the series’ strongest and most rewarding relationship.
Other notable episodes include: “Special Sessions,” a first season episode that is more consistently written than others from the year, “The Big One,” the second season premiere, which introduces Teri Garr’s character and affords Shelley Long a mildly amusing breakdown scene, and “I’m Not Ready For My Closeup, Dr. DeRuzza,” which is notable to me mostly for the appearance of Claire Stansfield, best known to Xena fans as Alti, the evil Amazon shamaness.
Come back next week for another Wildcard post! And tune in on Monday for a new Musical Theatre Monday!