Tag Archives: Surviving Jack

Meloni mines for laughs in Fox’s Surviving Jack

"Surviving Jack" premieres tonight on Fox.

Dr. Jack Dunlevy (Christopher Meloni, right) shares a rare supportive moment with his teenage son, Frankie (Connor Buckley), in “Surviving Jack,” premiering tonight on Fox.


Surviving Jack, a new sitcom premiering tonight on Fox, gives Christopher Meloni a chance to show off his formidable comedy chops after intense dramatic turns in HBO’s prison saga Oz and NBC’s long-running police drama Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.
Based on an autobiographical book by Justin Halpern and set in 1991, Surviving Jack stars Meloni as gruff oncologist Dr. Jack Dunlevy, who has decided to cut back his hours at his clinic so he can take over parenting his two teenage kids while his wife, Joanne (Rachael Harris), pursues her long-delayed dream of law school. Their daughter, Rachel (Claudia Lee), is mildly irritated by this household change, but her younger brother, high-school freshman Frankie (Connor Buckley), frets that his dad, an ex-military man, will now have even more opportunities to make his life difficult.
That’s a rational concern, given that Jack has been known to send his son out to run laps in the middle of the night and plants a large box of condoms in Frankie’s booksack to embarrass him at school. And while Jack dotes on his wife, he seems to harbor more ambivalent feelings toward Frankie.
“I love that woman,” Jack sighs, watching Joanne leave for class. “If an asteroid were to hit this Earth, and she and I were the only two people left alive, I’d be OK.”
“What about me?” Frankie asks.
“Well, obviously, there would be a grieving period,” Jack replies. “I’m not an ass.”
Halpern previously adapted another book into the ill-fated CBS sitcom euphemistically called Bleep My Dad Says, which also featured a crusty father figure who was a doctor, played on that show by William Shatner. Surviving Jack is a far more polished sitcom that makes even better use of its time period than ABC’s similarly themed The Goldbergs (there’s a funny running gag about Michael Crichton’s then-red-hot book Jurassic Park recurring in tonight’s pilot episode).
It helps, too, that Meloni has the good sense to underplay Jack’s bluntness. The character never shouts at his children, he just doesn’t mince any words or waste any tact in dealing with them.
My only concern is that tonight’s premiere seems to be too much of a one-trick pony that depends too much on ways that Jack benignly tortures Frankie. Some of it is laugh-out-loud funny, but I hope Surviving Jack will develop more of an ensemble feel in the weeks to come. Certainly Harris, a sitcom staple who also has a hilarious recurring role on USA Network’s Suits, is far too bright a comedy performer to remain stuck in the role of a largely absent mom. Buckley also is a real find as Frankie, although it’s stretching credibility to buy him as a freshman in high school.
Those minor quibbles aside, the prospects of Jack surviving look pretty good right now.
"Surviving Jack" on Fox.

Rachael Harris stars with Christopher Meloni in “Surviving Jack,” tonight on Fox.

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ALBERT TSAI, NATALIE MORALES, GIANNA LEPERA, RYAN SCOTT LEE, MALIN AKERMAN, BRADLEY WHITFORD, MARCIA GAY HARDEN, MICHAELA WATKINS
Trophy Wife, a very promising new sitcom premiering tonight on ABC, is blessed with a strong cast and some sharp writing, but saddled with arguably the worst, most misleading title of the season (more about the latter below).
Malin Akerman (The Comeback) stars as Kate, a beautiful girl who loves nothing more than partying nightly with her best friend, Meg (Natalie Morales, The Middleman) – until one karaoke night when Kate literally falls into the arms of Pete (Bradley Whitford, The West Wing), a slightly older environmental lawyer.
Romance ensues, and Kate soon becomes Pete’s wife – more specifically, his third wife, a position that comes with more baggage than a cruise ship. Pete’s first ex-wife, Diane (Marcia Gay Harden), is a brilliant medical doctor who regards the younger Kate with withering dismissal, an attitude immediately adopted by her teenage daughter, Hillary (Bailee Madison), although Hillary’s twin brother, Warren (Ryan Lee), is instantly smitten by his new stepmom. In fact, Warren’s school essays start to take on a disconcertingly erotic tone and feature a female figure who seems vaguely … familiar.
Pete’s second ex-wife, Jackie (Saturday Night Live alumna Michaela Watkins), is a neurotic, New Age-y mess and has a hyper-intelligent young adopted Asian son (scene-stealer Albert Tsai) who is completely unintimidated by the grown-ups around him.
Tonight’s pilot follows Kate as she tries to establish a meaningful place for herself in Pete’s crowded life, which means trying to make some connection with stepdaughter Hillary, who isn’t having any of it. The episode gives most of the cast members a chance to shine, none more brightly than Akerman, a starlet-pretty actress who also comes across as smart, funny, warm and accessible. Whitford, always a joy to watch, shows us how much Pete genuinely adores Kate, although his character seems to spend much of his screen time reacting to his extended family members (here’s hoping he becomes less passive in future episodes).
As the ex-wives, Harden, an Oscar winner who elevates any scene just by walking into it, makes Diane a formidable adversary for Kate while never crossing the line into stale bitchiness, but frankly I had a very hard time understanding why Peter ever would have married someone as scatterbrained as Watkins’ Jackie (the writers need to fix that, and soon).
In other words, from a creative standpoint, Trophy Wife is a likable enough show, but there’s a very real chance some viewers will never sample it because of its terrible title. Kate isn’t a trophy wife in any sense of the phrase. Pete cherishes everything about her, and she’s a strong, intelligent woman who actively engages with everyone else in his life, instead of just standing around looking decorative. Calling this show Trophy Wife sets up expectations of a sitcom that is far less appealing and engaging than this one is. And if you don’t think a misleading title can hobble a show’s chances, just talk to the creative team behind Cougar Town.
Trophy Wife already has something of an uphill struggle to find an audience in its insanely competitive Tuesday time period, opposite such established hits as The Voice, NCIS: LA, surging sophomore sitcom The Mindy Project and the long-running CW cult hit Supernatural. It doesn’t help that the lead-in to Trophy Wife is one of ABC’s feeblest new shows.
That would be The Goldbergs. Actually, I don’t want to be too hard on this doomed sitcom, because I suspect a lot of love went into it behind the scenes. Its creator, Adam F. Goldberg, based the show on his own upbringing back in the 1980s, when he grew up in a fractious but loving family headed by a blustering dad (Jeff Garlin, Curb Your Enthusiasm) who can’t articulate his love for his three kids and a doting mom (the glorious Wendi McLendon-Covey, Bridesmaids) whose love knows no bounds – or, unfortunately for her kids, boundaries.
The obvious template for this show is the Emmy-winning 1988-93 sitcom The Wonder Years. What Goldberg has overlooked, alas, is that we can’t all be the Arnolds from that cherished hit of yesteryear. There isn’t much that’s truly original or noteworthy about the Goldberg family except that most of them SCREAM A LOT FOR NO GOOD REASON. In fact, if the Nielsen ratings were measured in decibels, The Goldbergs probably would be the top-ranked show of the 2013-14 TV season.
Everything else, though, feels fairly generic, including George Segal’s dotty old grandpa character. How generic? The pilot revolves heavily around the father figure’s reluctance to teach his teenage son (Troy Gentile) how to drive. Coincidentally, Fox has a midseason comedy, Surviving Jack, waiting in the wings about an intimidating dad (Chris Meloni, in that case) who has a hard time expressing love to his kids. The pilot for that show has a pivotal scene in which Meloni’s character teaches his teenage son to drive. Did I mention that Surviving Jack is set in a recent past decade (the ‘90s) and based on the true-life teen experiences of its creator?
I suspect The Goldbergs tested through the roof with relatives of Adam F. Goldberg, but there’s not much here for the rest of us. There’s a good chance this show will be gone by Thanksgiving. I’m just hoping it doesn’t take Trophy Wife down with it.
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