Welcome to a new Wildcard Wednesday! This week, I’ve got another Sitcom Potpourri, where I briefly discuss several of the short-lived comedies I won’t have a chance to highlight in full — offering casual commentary that culminates in the selection of an episode (or episodes) that I think best represents each series at large, based on what I’ve seen. For this post, I’m looking at three 1990s multi-cams from FOX with a “hangout” or “Singles in the City” connection…
DOWN THE SHORE (June 1992 – May 1993, FOX)
Premise: Six singles from Manhattan rent a house on the Jersey Shore for the summer.
Cast: Louis Mandylor, Cathryn De Prume, Anna Gunn, Tom McGowan, Lew Schneider, Nancy Sorel, Pamela Adlon
Writers: Alan Kirschenbaum, Oliver Goldstick & Phil Rosenthal, Victor Levin, Michael Rowe, DeAnn Heline & Eileen Heisler, Shannon Gaughan, Larry Kase & Joel Ronkin, Jeremy Stevens, Bill Diamond & Michael Saltzman, Teresa O’Neill
Thoughts: An early “hangout” comedy featuring three men and three women, Down The Shore is unique because its ensemble of young singles only congregate every weekend over the summer… when they gather at the house they’ve collectively rented on the Jersey Shore. This renders their emotional histories and the strength of their relationships relatively shallow compared to others in this subgenre, for although the intended pilot (aired later) reveals them to be colleagues at a Manhattan company, it’s clear this otherwise isn’t a natural group of friends. That is, they wouldn’t be together if not for the business mechanics of the rented house. Now, that setup could potentially breed conflict — as these are people who ordinarily might not find each other — but it ends up being more indicative of one of this series’ overall weaknesses, for never do the individual bonds between the leads develop into the kind of strong relationships necessary to sustain this type of sitcom. And that is interesting, for the characters are fairly well-defined — the men more so than the women (one of whom is replaced in between seasons) — and there are indications of precise relational suggestions, like in the premiere when Eddie loses his virginity to Arden, or later, when the second season’s new roommate Sammy reveals a specific history with Aldo (just like Donna). Unfortunately, those bonds are never maximized in story, which instead cycles through ensemble shows or plots dedicated to one member of the cast, with their relationships never progressing… In turn, this means the emotional hook of Living Single, and Friends, and even Martin, is missing, for this “hangout” sitcom looks like it wants to indulge the era’s rom-com trappings, but only casually, without continuity or as a matter of real character-based relevance. Accordingly, it’s a sitcom that’s not fulfilling all its promised potential, so while it’s never awful — it’s amiable, the characters are decent (especially the men, with Tom McGowan an obvious standout), and there are laughs — it’s never great either. It’s just a prescient example of a trend that was about to explode, yielding many sitcoms that would utilize similar ideas, but implement them more successfully in story.
Episode Count: 29 episodes produced and broadcast over two seasons.
Episodes Seen: 26 — all but “Waiting For Aldo,” “Eddie’s Date,” and “A Blast From The Past”
Key Episodes (of Seen): #1: “Independence Day” (06/21/92)
#12: “Turn Of The Screw” (09/13/92)
#14: “No Hard Feelings” (12/03/92)
#15: “Hey Sis, You Up?” (12/10/92)
#19: “Fast Friends” (01/21/93)
Why: #1 suggests a relationship focus that is never actualized; #12 memorably guests Monica Horan (the wife of Down The Shore scribe Phil Rosenthal) in a comic story with a big climax; #14 is the second season’s premiere that introduces a possible new relationship between regulars; and #15 and #19 are both scripts by Victor Levin that try to explore individual dynamics shared by ensemble members as a result of possible romantic entanglements.
THE GEORGE CARLIN SHOW (January 1994 – July 1995, FOX)
Premise: A cabdriver hangs out at a local bar with his friends.
Cast: George Carlin, Alex Rocco, Paige French, Anthony Starke, Christopher Rich, Mike Hagerty, Susan Sullivan
Writers: George Carlin & Sam Simon, Heide Perlman, Maria Semple, Brian Pollack & Mert Rich, Jim McCoulf, Robert Rabinowitz & Ronald Winter, Dennis Carlin & Patrick Carlin, Andrew Nicholls & Darrell Vickers, Jonathan Aibel & Glenn Berger, Spike Feresten, Jeff Lowell, Kelly Carlin-McCall & Bob McCall, Robert Borden, Rick Cunningham
Thoughts: This vehicle for the iconic George Carlin was co-created by Sam Simon (of Cheers and The Simpsons) and looks like a replacement Cheers, with a “hangout” ensemble centered in a city bar. But these folks are a little rougher around the edges, and they’re not quite as well-defined; aside from Alex Rocco’s and Christopher Rich’s roles, there’s a vagueness to the other leads that precludes the show from being genuinely character-driven like the best of Simon’s work. Apparently, Simon and Carlin clashed a lot, and the former’s presence seems to have been reduced during the 14-episode first season, the end of which starts to settle into a more workable identity for the series — one that’s still not character-rich (because the leads just aren’t defined very well), but is idea-driven in a way that flatters our understanding of Carlin’s shocking persona, which thus enables topical (and sometimes blasphemous) stories, a darker thematic filter, and a sense of random absurdity. Season Two is fully on board with this ethos, pairing two characters romantically in accordance with the growing rom-com trend, but otherwise not indulging the touchy-feely style of many sitcoms of this era. No, per Carlin’s sensibility, the show remains dark and rebellious — with stories about religion, porn, drugs, and death, and bold episodes that offer trippy dream sequences, musical numbers, and goofy flashbacks. This wild and rambunctious anti-sitcom attitude actually helps the show, for it better embodies its star, and it’s therefore much funnier. But of course, it’s never a great situation comedy, and for that reason, my enjoyment can only go so far, especially because I don’t think it ever quite finds the right balance of “sitcom” and “anti-sitcom” (compared to Martin, for instance).
Episode Count: 27 episodes produced and broadcast over two seasons.
Episodes Seen: All 27.
Key Episodes (of Seen): #11: “George Speaks His Mind” (04/24/94)
#14: “George Lifts The Holy Spirit” (05/15/94)
#18: “George Gets Hoist By His Own Petard” (11/06/94)
#21: “George Really Does It This Time” (12/04/94)
#24: “George Puts On A Happy Face” (12/25/94)
#27: “George Likes A Good War” (07/16/95)
Why: #11 is the first episode that seems tailored to Carlin, with a story about his character’s profanity; #14 has a funny idea-led plot about a stolen Jesus statue; #18 is the best entry featuring Christopher Rich; #21 is an absurd and popular outing where George’s refusal to shampoo his hair causes a pandemic; #24 is another offering built around Carlin’s persona (his inability to smile); and #27 is the series’ wild finale, which feels more like a sketch than a sitcom.
THE CREW (August 1995 – June 1996, FOX)
Premise: The flight attendants and crew of a Miami airline hang out both on and off-duty.
Cast: Rose Jackson, Kristin Bauer, David Burke, Charles Esten, Dondre Whitfield, Christine Estabrook, Lane Davies
Writers: Marc Cherry & Jamie Wooten and John Pardee & Joey Murphy, Maxine Lapiduss, Sarit Catz & Gloria Ketterer, Lynnie Greene & Richard Levine, Valerie Ahern & Christian McLaughlin, Alison Taylor, Tim Schlattmann
Thoughts: Although this initially seems like an ensemble workplace comedy, we’re quickly assured that it’s a “Singles in the City” rom-com with a group of five young people — including a gay man and a pair that couples in the pilot — and an elder duo as regular support. In terms of the writing, this series was created and led by former Golden Girls scribes Marc Cherry and Jamie Wooten, so it’s snappy and topical — with media-literate and network-ordained casting gimmicks (such as cameos by Synclaire and Regine from Living Single) as well — but not all the leading characters are defined comedically. Exceptions are David Burke as quintessential ladies’ man Randy and Christine Estabrook (whom Cherry would later reuse on Desperate Housewives) as Lenora, the flight attendants’ passive aggressive boss, viciously sniping at her underlings while maintaining a cutthroat smile. Other than that, the characterizations aren’t collectively great, which means the storytelling is largely lame and unoriginal too — there’s nothing here that stands out as stellar. It feels like just another “hangout” rom-com, with the things that could make it unique (an airline setting, a young gay character, a diverse cast) not really inspiring story the way that it should. Instead, it’s a lot of narrative formula and gimmickry.
Episode Count: 21 episodes produced and broadcast.
Episodes Seen: 17 — all but “The New Kids On The Block,” “Love and Marriage,” “Winds Of Change (I),” and “Winds Of Change (II)”
Key Episodes (of Seen): #2: “The Dating Game” (09/07/95)
#13: “The Worst Noel” (12/14/95)
Why: There’s no great episode, but #2 puts all the characters in premise-validating romantic scenarios, and though they don’t really motivate the entirety of the proceedings, their individual scenes (in this almost anthology-like structure) nevertheless reveal how they will typically be used in the series. Also, I mention #13 simply because it guest stars the always-hilarious Harriet Sansom Harris as Estabrook’s sister. They’re both dynamite. (Incidentally, #13 is also the entry where Kim Coles makes a cameo in character as Living Single’s Synclaire.)
Ultimately, I say… FORGET THE CREW, STUDY DOWN THE SHORE, and ENJOY (what you can of) THE GEORGE CARLIN SHOW.
Come back next week for a new Wildcard! And stay tuned Tuesday for Living Single!