Revamping 'Alex,' cleaning up 'Crumbs'
Maybe I've been at this "TV Eye" business so long that I'm crazy (or arrogant) enough to graduate from "I like this ... I don't like that ..." comments about television to "They should be doing it this way." Meaning, there are times very recently when I've either watched a new series or read a description of a new series launching in March when I thought: Not only did they miss the mark, the mark was staring them right in the face.
Let's talk about two shows that aren't bad, but are, from my emboldened perspective, aiming in the wrong direction.
Courting Alex (CBS): Jenna Elfman (Dharma & Greg) plays Alex Rose, a successful, attractive type-A lawyer with a lousy love life. That is, until she meets Scott (Josh Randall), a tavern owner who threw away his life as a former stockbroker, then as a fireman (what, he wasn't an astronaut, too?) to take over his dad's bar, count his blessings, and smell the roses. In other words, Elfman now plays Greg to Randall's Dharma, except without the hippie overlay.
They should be doing it this way: We've seen the big girl in the big-city workplace premise before (The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Suddenly Susan, Ally McBeal, the upcoming Pepper Dennis). It's a shame not to take advantage of the chemistry between Dabney Coleman, who plays Bill Rose, Alex's dad and boss. With five failed marriages, it's endearing and somewhat surprising that he wants his driven daughter to find love and settle down. If he hasn't found "true love," what makes him think it exists for any one else? I am less interested in the Dharma & Greg rerun than in seeing the generational and gender differences toward love and romance. Why not have Coleman's character look for love, too? As a person nearing the precipice of middle age, I adamantly say: He's old ... he's not dead.
Quick solution: Ditch Scott; get Alex (and Bill) lots of suitors; get rid of Julian (Hugh Bonneville), the leering next-door neighbor (or at least make him a former suitor); and give us some interesting, contrasting predicaments between two workplace companions who happen to be father and daughter.
Crumbs (ABC): Fred Savage is all grown up, starring as Mitch Crumb, the prodigal son who went off to seek his big break in Hollywood. Mitch returns home following his mother Suzanne's (Jane Curtin) nervous breakdown after dad (William Devane) dumped her for a younger woman. Oh, and Mitch is gay, but his family doesn't know it a common secret on recent new series. (To their credit, Four Kings put a spin on the secret by revealing that one of their foursome isn't gay ... he's a Republican!). Speaking of secrets: Mitch's big break crested; he's broke; and he actually needs his job at the family restaurant, but he's too proud to tell his family. Apparently serving as a window into the family's dysfunction is a family tragedy about a dead brother.
They should be doing it this way: I've never been much of Curtin fan, but there's a lot more to harvest from her loopy Suzanne. Middle-aged, injured, and adrift, her clumsy efforts to find meaning in her life the mother of children who don't need her, the wife of a man who ditched her is an enormously interesting contrast to her son, who is also at a plateau. It's also the source of the show's considerable humor, as when Suzanne forgoes the divorced middle-aged women's group and joins a support group for former crystal-meth addicts. I would like to see Suzanne be the centerpiece of the series. Keep Mitch; keep ex-husband Billy; and, especially, Elvis (Reginald Ballard), the African-American orderly who became Suzanne's lover when she was institutionalized and is now her buddy. Pare down or eliminate the roles of petulant son Jody (Eddie McClintock) and Andrea (Maggie Lawson), a confidante and relative who works in the family restaurant.
Courting Alex airs Mondays at 8:30pm on CBS. Crumbs airs Tuesdays at 8:30pm on ABC.
Real Time With Bill Maher returns for a fourth season next Friday, Feb. 17, with more provocative chatter on contemporary political issues. No changes in format, which includes Maher's opening monologue; in-studio and satellite guests; and best of all, the roundtable discussion, itself always invigorating, infuriating, but always worth a listen. Maher's "New Rules" segment is saucy and irreverent, and, though it's not mentioned in HBO press materials, let's hope that makes a return as well. No word at press time who the roundtable discussants will be. Real Time With Bill Maher airs Fridays at 10pm on HBO.
As always, stay tuned.