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 four workplace multi-cams that premiered during 1995 on CBS…
DOUBLE RUSH (Jan 1995 – April 1995, CBS)
Premise: A former rocker runs a bicycle messenger service with a staff of eclectics.
Cast: Robert Pastorelli, David Arquette, Corinne Bohrer, Adam Goldberg, D.L. Hughley, Phil Leeds, Sam Lloyd
Writers: Stephen Nathan & Diane English, Michael Curtis & Greg Malins, Jim Herzfeld, Russ Woody, Caryn Lucas, Andy Cowan
Thoughts: In keeping with the Diane English tradition of offering lesser versions of earlier hit templates, this vehicle for Murphy Brown’s Eldin (Robert Pastorelli) casts him as the Sam Malone of a bicycle messenger service — he loves his employees but still harbors dreams of his past as a musician. With a strong cast — an eclectic ensemble where David Arquette, Adam Goldberg, D.L. Hughley, and Phil Leeds are standouts — comparisons were made at the time to both Cheers and even Taxi, another ensemble workplace comedy about a group of loners with dreams outside of their current occupation. Unfortunately, Double Rush does not fare well when measured alongside those greats, especially with clichéd storytelling not inspired by the leads’ definitions, and, most criminally, a failure to really explore relationships between them. Cheers’ early episodes were establishing the dynamics between Sam and Diane, Sam and Coach, Diane and Carla, etc.; Double Rush is offering plots about weekly guests and or/with hacky ideas like “what happens when the boss gets a gun for the first time.” The series was initially placed opposite Roseanne and didn’t do well in the ratings — but this is no lost gem, for ultimately, it’s yet another sitcom that modeled itself on greatness (it even has a Diane Chambers-like character in Corinne Bohrer’s Zoe) but couldn’t actually spark it, because it doesn’t have characters as strong, or the skills to know how to develop them directly in story.
Episode Count: 13 produced; 12 broadcast.
Episodes Seen: All 12 broadcast episodes.
Key Episode (of Seen): #1: “The Episode Formerly Known As Prince” (01/04/95)
Why: There are no great episodes, but the pilot reveals the series’ formulaic mediocrity.
THE GEORGE WENDT SHOW (March 1995 – April 1995, CBS)
Premise: Two brothers run a car garage and host a call-in radio show about auto repair.
Cast: George Wendt, Pat Finn, Brian Doyle-Murray, Kate Hodge, Mark Christopher Lawrence
Writers: Peter Tolan & Lew Schneider, Dan O’Shannon, Daphne Pollon, Mike Martineau, Gordon R. McKee, David Regal
Thoughts: George Wendt’s follow-up to Cheers puts him in another workplace and gives him a brother to inform the series’ central relationship — à la Wings and Frasier — but there’s none of that strong character work here. Specifically, there’s not enough of a differentiation between the brothers, or even a precise pinpointable dynamic, to make that core bond interesting. In fact, the show is just muted and dull overall — surprisingly colorless, with nothing terrible, but very little memorable. It’s the worst kind of sitcom: forgettable (and this is a shock, coming from folks who’d written for greats like Cheers and The Larry Sanders Show).
Episode Count: Eight produced; seven broadcast.
Episodes Seen: All seven broadcast episodes.
Key Episode (of Seen): #7: “And Here’s To You, Mrs. Robertson” (04/19/95)
Why: The final aired episode is the funniest, thanks to a guest appearance by Mama’s Family’s Beverly Archer, who plays Wendt’s blind date — when he doubles with his brother and Archer’s daughter. It’s an amusing idea and she’s a burst of energy that adds some needed laughs.
THE OFFICE (March 1995 – April 1995, CBS)
Premise: Four secretaries work for their four bosses at a small packaging company.
Cast: Valerie Harper, Dakin Matthews, Debra Jo Rupp, Lisa Darr, Kristin Dattilo-Hayward, Kevin Conroy, Andrea Abbate, Gary Dourdan
Writers: Susan Beavers & Barbara Corday, Ken Estin, Jennifer Heath
Thoughts: A great cast with well-defined characters makes for the strongest new ensemble workplace comedy of spring 1995 (NBC’s NewsRadio aside). The four secretaries — including star Valerie Harper and a pre-That ‘70s Show Debra Jo Rupp — are contrasted well against each other: the sarcastic pro, the frazzled mother, the ditz, and the siren. Meanwhile, the bosses also have unique and easily understood personas — with Dakin Matthews leading the bunch and instilling a lot of humanity in his relationship with Harper’s character especially: the emotional core (like Mary and Lou). To that point, the best part about The Office — not to be mistaken for the identically titled ensemble workplace comedy of the following decade — is that its stories explore the regulars’ definitions and flesh out their relationships. This is helped by the fact that their company — like on the later The Office — is irrelevant; this is really a show about people existing in a generic, well, office. And with this setup, all the comedic burden is placed on the leads and how they interact. So, this short-lived show indicated promise — much like Harper’s previous ensemble workplace comedy (City), which also deserved better. (Oh, and Jay Sandrich directed every episode, so there was a classic pedigree here.)
Episode Count: Six produced; five broadcast.
Episodes Seen: All five broadcast episodes.
Key Episodes (of Seen): #1: “Pilot” [“The Office”] (03/11/95)
#5: “Judgement Day” (04/15/95)
Why: The pilot indicates a strong setup of characters, and #5 is the best interoffice and relationship-based story, ideal except that it’s missing one of the bosses (Kevin Conroy).
DWEEBS (Sept 1995 – Oct 1995, CBS)
Premise: A pretty woman who knows nothing about computers takes a job at a computer company with a bunch of geeks.
Cast: Peter Scolari, Farrah Forke, Corey Feldman, David Kaufman, Stephen Tobolowsky, Adam Biesk, Holly Fulger
Writers: Peter Noah, Bruce Rasmussen, Eric Cohen, Bill Barol, Sydnie Suskind, Ross Abrash & Renee Palyo
Thoughts: This ensemble comedy about a group of male nerds and their new hot female friend is often compared to The Big Bang Theory — and for good reason; there’s even a teased possibility for romance between said woman (Farrah Forke, of Wings) and the king (or boss) of the geeks, played by Newhart’s Peter Scolari. The major difference is Big Bang was a “hangout” comedy in the Friends vein, with an even greater rom-com focus as a result, and this is more of a workplace show — a big trend in 1995. In terms of the character work, I would prefer a trifle more distinction between all the “dweebs” (that’s something Big Bang Theory did well), but it’s overall pretty solid, especially for a short-lived show — with Stephen Tobolowsky, Corey Feldman, and Peter Scolari as particular highlights. Now, the storytelling is never quite as promising as the pilot sets itself up to be… but, hey, this show never got a chance to exercise its muscles and figure out the best ways to use its characters in story. Had it been given more time, I think it could have developed into an enjoyable and unique mid-‘90s sitcom.
Episode Count: Ten produced; six broadcast.
Episodes Seen: All ten.
Key Episodes (of Seen): #1: “Pilot” (09/22/95)
#2: “The Privacy Show” (09/29/95)
Why: No episode is more exciting than the pilot, which sets up the great premise of a woman learning from geeks how to connect to the computer, while she teaches them how to connect to other humans. The second episode follows up with a similar idea and cements relationships.
Ultimately, I say… FORGET both DOUBLE RUSH and THE GEORGE WENDT SHOW, and ENJOY (what you can of) DWEEBS and, in particular, THE OFFICE.
Come back next week for a new Wildcard! And stay tuned Tuesday for Cybill!