Welcome to a new Wildcard Wednesday! In this week’s entry, I’m sharing some quick thoughts on the short-lived comedy Bram And Alice, which was broadcast for four whole weeks in October 2002 on CBS. Nine episodes were produced before the axe fell — and I’ve had the opportunity to screen copies of every produced installment, each of which has been seen in syndication. Bram And Alice starred Alfred Molina, shortly after his two-season comedy (with Betty White) called Ladies Man, as the sexually charged and irresponsible Bram, alongside Traylor Howard, shortly after her four-year stint on Two Guys And A Girl, as the bright-eyed and squeaky clean Alice, an aspiring writer. In the pilot, Alice learns that Bram, a renowned author and her idol, is actually her biological father following a one-night stand he had decades ago with her mom (played in the pilot by Catherine O’Hara, and in a later un-broadcast outing by Harriet Sansom Harris). Others in the ensemble included Roger Bart as Bram’s much-put-upon assistant (named Paul Newman), Katie Finneran as Bram’s bubbly neighbor and drinking buddy, and Michael Rispoli as the bartender for the establishment in the lobby of their luxury abode. The series chronicled Bram and Alice’s developing bond as both roommates and family.
Aside from being a multi-cam with an interesting cast — including several names familiar to my theatre-lovin’ readers — Paramount’s Bram And Alice seemed worthy of discussion because it was created (and Executive Produced) by Frasier alums Christopher Lloyd (The Golden Girls, Wings, Modern Family) and Joe Keenan (Gloria Vane, Desperate Housewives, The Odd Couple). This was the pair’s only series to make it to air in the period between their initial leave from Frasier in 2000 and their return to the long-running hit in 2003. (Their first pilot, Seven Roses, about a British family running a New England inn, was to star Brenda Blethyn and Kristin Chenoweth but never even got produced.) Other staffers on Bram And Alice included Co-Executive Producer Jennifer Crittenden (The Simpsons, Seinfeld, Everybody Loves Raymond, Arrested Development, The New Adventures Of Old Christine, Veep), Supervising Producer Michael Davidoff (The Golden Palace, The John Larroquette Show, The Single Guy, Working), Co-Producers Paul Corrigan & Brad Walsh (City Guys, Stacked, King Of The Hill, Modern Family), Consulting Producer Ken Keeler (Letterman, The Simpsons, The Naked Truth, Futurama), Creative Consultants Richard Rosenstock (Laverne & Shirley, Mork & Mindy, Flying Blind, Arrested Development, The Big Bang Theory) and Anne-Flett Giordano & Chuck Ranberg (Kate & Allie, Frasier, Encore! Encore!, Desperate Housewives, Hot In Cleveland), and episodic contributors Adam Braff (The Chris Isaak Show), and Ken Levine & David Isaacs (MASH, Cheers, Wings, Frasier, Almost Perfect).
In addition to being poorly rated, Bram And Alice was not well-received. Much was made about the “creepy” nature of the title characters’ relationship because of the pilot, in which Bram — for an extended period of time — lusts over and hopes to bed Alice, unaware that she’s his adult daughter. But while this may indeed be an ostentatious bit of comedy that, for some, fell flat — I think the perceived crassness of the opener was a convenient excuse for tuning out. The simple fact is that with writers of Frasier‘s calibre, we come to this series expecting better — better than forgettable mediocrity. We’d rather find a more tangible reason — like bad taste — to stop watching than to admit that the fault lies not in the joke, but in the characters… Of course, every show needs time to develop, so perhaps I’m being (as so many others then were) too harsh. With only nine episodes to screen, all I can really say is that the core duo does invite criticism — for although the show is designed, like Frasier initially, to derive both laughs and drama from the relationship between a child and a long-estranged (and temperamentally opposite) parent, he’s one-dimensional and she’s definition-starved. Bram needs more nuance (the pervert bit was eventually toned down, but his general selfishness remains one-note) and Alice needs a pinpointable flaw, a source of comedy (because being a “goody two shoes” defines what others think she is, not who she is). There’s improvement by the final two episodes — only seen in syndication — but it’s not enough to suggest, in my personal opinion, that the series ever could have shaken off the dull start.
The bright spots here are the supporting cast — particularly Finneran’s Katie (she was Poppy in two addled episodes of Frasier), who plays the neighbor, an ice performer in a tumultuous relationship with an off-screen Maris-like figure named Toshiro, and Rispoli’s Michael, the wisecracking bartender who never really gets his hands wet in story, but remains, like Finneran, an amiable provider of comedy that’s, by design, not beleaguered by the tension existing in the main pair’s quest for emotional relevance (so stymied because of their underdeveloped characterizations)… And ultimately, speaking of the main pair — the unfavorable difference between Bram And Alice and Frasier grows exponentially because of this definition issue. As we’ve been discussing, Frasier knew its lead so well that it could motivate every part of its identity through his identity. Bram And Alice, without the benefit of a Cheers to create the characters’ foundation, wasn’t able to know its two eponymous protagonists well enough — and early enough — to settle into a comedic tone that could symbiotically help perpetuate the characterizations… However, while Bram And Alice was a commercial bust and a creative disappointment, there’s some good news here in its failure. First, the duo was available to return to Frasier and give it a strong final season (stay tuned…), and second, the talented twosome was better prepared to craft some well-defined (and necessarily so) characters in their next joint sitcom effort, the memorable Out Of Practice. (Again, stay tuned…)
This week, because I can’t provide a list of favorites, I’m sharing — for your critical benefit — what I consider the strongest outing, the eighth produced (first seen in syndication), “Scribbling Rivalry.” Written by Jennifer Crittenden and directed by Will Mackenzie (WKRP In Cincinnati, Newhart, Family Ties, Everybody Loves Raymond, Reba, Scrubs), this outing captured my attention because it actually motivates a story from a character flaw in the heretofore perfect Alice. In this regard, it’s Alice’s most defined moment in the series, and also plays to the series’ thesis by adding conflict in her relationship with Bram. Meanwhile, the subplot with Katie, Paul, and the unseen Toshiro is genuinely funny. (Oh, and Brenda Strong guests, too!) So, enjoy — and for subscribed readers interested in seeing what I consider the only other worthwhile entry, the final episode produced (with a script credited to Levine & Isaacs, and a turn by Harris in the recast role of the mom), comment below!
Come back next Wednesday for another Wildcard post! And tune in Tuesday for more Frasier!