The first time we meet Jennifer Doyle (Jaime Pressly), the title character in the new TV Land comedy Jennifer Falls, she’s getting fired from her job as a vice president at a Fortune 500 corporation. The grounds? Personality problems – specifically, “anger issues” that make her so volatile no one will agree to work with her.
Six months later, a still-unemployed Jennifer insists she is not discouraged. “Evidently, the men in the industry find me terrifying,” she tells us in a direct-to-camera comment, “but the women find me inspiring … and also terrifying.” With no other means of support and a teenage daughter (Dylan Gelula) to care for, however, Jennifer is forced to an option of last resort: moving back to her hometown and living with her acerbic mom, Maggie (Jessica Walter, Arrested Development), a psychologist.
Created by Matthew Carlson (Malcolm in the Middle), Jennifer Falls, which premieres tonight, diverges somewhat from the traditional TV Land sitcom template. Instead of recording in front of a live studio audience, as Hot in Cleveland does, Jennifer Falls goes the Modern Family route, using no laugh track and having the characters – at least Jennifer, in tonight’s pilot – talk directly to viewers now and then. The show also has a bit more edge than most other TV Land fare, although not so much that it clashes with its time slot neighbors.
What is does have in common with other successful TV Land comedies is a splendid cast of TV comedy veterans delivering lively and laugh-packed dialogue. In addition to Pressly, who won an Emmy for her role on My Name Is Earl, the cast also includes Pressly’s Earl castmate Ethan Suplee as Wayne, Jennifer’s brother, who owns a local sports bar. That helps in terms of giving Jennifer at least a short-term job as a bartender, but sadly, Wayne’s wife, Stephanie (the gloriously saccharine Nora Kirkpatrick from Greek), really calls the shots at the business, and she drives Jennifer nuts with her non-stop passive-aggressiveness.
Also on board is the always smart and funny Missi Pyle (The Exes) as Dina Sumac, Jennifer’s recently divorced best friend from high school. In tonight’s pilot, however, there’s tension between the two former besties, since Jennifer had just sent Dina a massage gift certificate when her marriage was cratering instead of showing up to lend a shoulder.
And then, of course, there’s Jessica Walter, who has been TV’s bitchy mom of choice ever since her Emmy-nominated turn as Lucille Bluth in Arrested Development. Her Maggie Doyle is a bit more maternal than Lucille ever was, but she’s still self-absorbed and tactless, as when she tells Jennifer she’s in need of some therapy to deal with her anger.
“Don’t worry, I’ll see you for free,” Maggie says, twinkling. “Or maybe a little yardwork. Just some light weeding.”
I’ve only seen tonight’s pilot, but based on that, I can definitely recommend that you check out tonight’s premiere of Jennifer Falls. Both the writing and performances are well above what passes for the sitcom norm these days.