Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Fox Midseason Pilot Review: Surviving Jack - Premieres Thursday, March 27; Martin Lawrence on The Soul Man LIVE Tonight on TV Land

Surviving Jack

Surviving Jack - Thursdays at 9:30PM ET/PT on Fox
Premieres Thursday, March 27, 2014 at 9:30PM ET/PT


by Vincent

Surviving Jack is a new single-camera comedy set in 1990s Southern California. The series centers on Jack Dunlevy, an ex-military man and no-nonsense guy who becomes a full-time parent when his wife decides to go to law school. He takes an unorthodox approach to keeping his teenagers, Frankie and Rachel, in line.

Cast Details:

Christopher Meloni as Dr. Jack Dunlevy
Rachael Harris as Joanne Dunlevy
Connor Buckley as Frankie Dunlevy
Claudia Lee as Rachel Dunlevy

Christopher Meloni (Dr. Jack Dunlevy) is best known for his long-running role as Detective Elliott Stabler on Law & Order: SVU. He is also known for his work on dramas such as Oz and True Blood. Surviving Jack will be his first time headlining a comedy.

Rachael Harris (Joanne Dunlevy) has an extensive list of guest star credits, including Pushing Daisies, Desperate Housewives, Cougar Town, Archer, Happy Endings, New Girl, Party Down, The Office, Suits and Modern Family. Surviving Jack will be her first starring role in a series.

Connor Buckley (Frankie Dunlevy) has previously appeared in the film The Abduction of Zack Butterfield and in the series Mafia Diaries.

Claudia Lee (Rachel Dunlevy) is best known for her role as Magnolia Breenald on the CW drama Hart of Dixie. She also appeared in the films Kick-Ass 2 and the series Zeke and Luther.


Pilot Plot:

"Pilot" (Thursday, March 27 at 9:30PM ET/PT)

In the pilot episode of the series, Jack Dunlevy (Christopher Meloni) is left as the main caregiver of the Dunlevy household after his wife begins law school. While it seems simple at first, things become more complicated when his teenage son Frankie develops a crush, and his daughter Claudia gets a bit too far with her boyfriend. It's up to Jack to reel everyone in, the best way he can.

Analysis:

Surviving Jack is the latest in a wave of 80s/90s "nostalgia" sitcoms this season - the others being ABC's The Goldbergs and NBC's Growing Up Fisher. This is a trend that tends to pop up every so often, and with good reason - nostalgia is a powerful, powerful drug. Just look anywhere on the internet, and you'll be bombarded with endless reminders of just how amazing the '80s and '90s were and how much happier we'd all be if we could just live in that time period. Dating back to Happy Days' dominance, nostalgia-laced sitcoms have attempted to dig into this mindset, but the truth is that it's a hard thing for a sitcom to get right. There have been only a handful of sitcoms since Happy Days to successfully recapture its magic. This is because it's very easy for a sitcom set in the past to feel overly gimmicky and ultimately fast, especially since a sitcom isn't likely to delve into the complex fabrics of the era in a way a show like Mad Men can. When a show becomes more about the time period and less about the characters its placed in that time period, everything starts to look and feel artificial. For a show like this to work, the show has to place a stronger focus on the characters than it does on the "hey, look, it's 1990!" gimmicks. Otherwise, why go through the trouble of watching a half-hour sitcom when you can simply look at a list of gifs on Buzzfeed?

Luckily, the pilot episode suggests Surviving Jack is well aware of this. Helmed by veteran sitcom scribe Bill Lawrence (previous showrunner of Spin City, Scrubs and Cougar Town and current producer of TBS's Ground Floor), Surviving Jack boasts a handful of well-defined - if somewhat stereotypical - characters. Lawrence's experiences shows in the Surviving Jack pilot, which is bursting with the witty dialogue and subtle character moments that we've come to expect from his shows. The characters, as I noted, don't feel exactly original, and that goes for the plots, too - "hard-ass dad and his soft teenage son" is a situation we've seen time and time again, and the pilot uses a groan-worthy school dance plot that would've felt repetitive even back in 1991. But there's a level of earnestness to Surviving Jack that makes me think this is a show that will eventually allow its characters to rise above their stock types, and there are enough funny, charming moments through-out the pilot that it earns the pedigree of its producer. Surviving Jack is not the most interesting or refreshing new comedy of the season, but it's a simple pleasure, and there's always room for that on TV. As long as the show is able to rise above some of the assembly-line stock plots that existed in the pilot, it could become a solidly enjoyable family sitcom.

Conclusion:

Surviving Jack is a little too familiar for its own good, and some of the early '90s gimmicks are a bit too overdone. But with solid writing, strong performances, and a clear sense of direction, Surviving Jack still comes out looking like a pretty decent family sitcom. If the show allows itself to break out of its shell and experiment with some character types that don't feel straight out of 1991, it could grow into something even more.

Final Numbers (out of 5 stars):

Watchability: 3.5/5
Funniness: 3.5/5
Overall: 3.5/5

Discuss the show after you watch it on Thursday, March 27, 2014 at 9:30PM ET/PT on our message board.

Related Links:

  • Fox.com Official Site
  • TV.com
  • epguides.com
  • Internet Movie Database
  • Wikipedia
  • Surviving Jack Photo Gallery

    Preview:




  • The Soul Man Live on TV Land

    Comedic legend Martin Lawrence and hip-hop artist B.o.B will round out The Soul Man guest cast for the LIVE season premiere TONIGHT (Wednesday, March 26) at 10:30pm ET/PT. Previously announced guest stars include singer/actress Brandy Norwood (Moesha) and Betty White, who will cross over to The Soul Man following the live episode of Hot in Cleveland. The LIVE season three premiere will simulcast on TV Land, BET and CENTRIC, as we mentioned. Martin Lawrence (Martin) will appear in the LIVE episode as Rudy, Boyce's (Cedric "The Entertainer") scatterbrained drummer pal who helps to bring Boyce's band back together. At the end of the night, GRAMMY-nominated artist B.o.B hits the stage live to close out the show with a performance that will include The Soul Man himself, Cedric "The Entertainer." In the LIVE season premiere episode, Brandy Norwood will play Rita, one of Boyce's old back-up dancers who's hiding an obvious secret; Betty White appears as Elka Ostrovsky, her Hot in Cleveland character whom Boyce counted as a former parishioner; and Kellee Stewart, returns as Lolli's (Niecy Nash) sister, Kim, who takes her relationship with Stamps (Wesley Jonathan) to the next level. Tune in LIVE for the The Soul Man premiere and also for the Hot in Cleveland LIVE episode, all starting at 10|9c on TV Land!


    New on DVD/Blu-ray (February/March)

    227 - The Complete First Season (Mill Creek) Fuller House - The Complete First Season The Jamie Foxx Show - The Complete Second Season What I Like About You - The Complete Second Season Newhart - The Final (Eighth) Season

    02/07 - Sabrina, the Teenage Witch - Sabrina Down Under
    02/07 - So Little Time - Volume 1 - School's Cool - Boy Crazy
    02/07 - So Little Time - Volume 2 - About a Family - Hangin' Out
    02/07 - 227 - The Complete First Season (Mill Creek)
    02/07 - Vice Principals - The Complete First Season (Blu-ray)
    02/14 - Beavis and Butt-Head - The Complete Collection
    02/14 - Grace and Frankie - Season Two
    02/28 - Fuller House - The Complete First Season
    03/03 - The Dick Van Dyke Show - Now... In Living Color! (Blu-ray)
    03/07 - The Jamie Foxx Show - The Complete Second Season
    03/07 - Mama's Family - Mama's Favorites
    03/07 - That '70s Show - The Complete Series - Flashback Edition (Blu-ray)
    03/07 - What I Like About You - The Complete Second Season
    03/07 - You Me Her - Season One
    03/14 - Newhart - The Final (Eighth) Season
    03/14 - Unbrekable Kimmy Schmidt - Season Two
    03/21 - Master of None - Season One
    More TV DVD Releases / DVD Reviews Archive / SitcomsOnline Digest


    Sitcoms Airing Tonight

    Wednesday, March 29

    The Goldbergs - "A Night to Remember" (ABC, 8:00PM ET/PT)
    It’s prom night, and all three Goldberg kids have big plans, which go awry.  Barry plans big romantic gestures for Lainey while Erica and Geoff try to go to prom together, but it doesn’t go as planned. Meanwhile, Adam is thrilled when a nerdy but cute junior asks him out, but he is horrified when Beverly gets involved.

    Imaginary Mary - "Pilot" (ABC, 8:30PM ET/PT)
    A fiercely independent career woman, Alice has her life turned upside-down when she meets Ben, a divorced father with three children, and soon falls head-over-heals for him. This triggers more upheaval when the imaginary friend she created as a child, Mary, suddenly reappears as she is nervous to meet Ben’s kids for the first time.

    Modern Family - "Five Minutes" (ABC, 9:00PM ET/PT)
    So much can happen to the Pritchett-Dunphy-Tucker clan in five minutes! Mitch and Cam have five minutes to catch a new flight while fighting the effects of sleeping pills they took prematurely. Then at Rainer’s birthday dinner, Haley and Rainer are forced to reevaluate their entire relationship in the five minutes before the birthday cake arrives. Meanwhile, Phil and Claire pay a surprise visit to Alex and are given a five-minute surprise introduction to her new boyfriend. Finally, with only five minutes to catch a movie, Manny has to find the perfect parking space and endure Jay and Gloria’s backseat argument.

    black-ish - "Richard Youngsta" (ABC, 9:30PM ET/PT)
    Dre is excited about doing a campaign with a popular rap star but becomes conflicted when Bow and Ruby provide feedback suggesting it plays on stereotypes. Meanwhile, Bow is determined to get the family to stop eating so much take-out food, but realizes the family may be too accustomed to eating whatever they want.

    Nobodies - "Mr. First Lady" (TV Land, 10:00PM ET/PT)
    After years toiling away writing on a kids cartoon, “The Fartlemans”, Groundlings Alums Larry, Rachel and Hugh finally get their big break: A chance to pitch their film script “Mr. First Lady” at Paramount.

    Lopez - "Leaving Las Vegas" (TV Land, 10:30PM ET/PT)
    George quits his Las Vegas residency, causing big problems. Manolo gets out of jail and introduces his roommate, Hector, to everyone.

    Schitt's Creek - "Friends & Family" (Pop, 8:00PM ET/PT)
    Johnny and Moira look for a location for the family portrait; David hosts a soft launch for the new store.

    Complete TV Listings


    Sitcom Stars on Talk Shows (Week of March 27)

    Wednesday, March 29

    • Andrew Rannells (Girls/The New Normal) - Watch Andrew on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon at 11:34pm on NBC.
    • Emma Roberts (Scream Queens/Unfabulous) - Emma is a guest on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert at 11:35pm on CBS.
    • Ken Jeong (Dr. Ken/Community) - Ken appears on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert at 11:35pm on CBS. He will also be on NBC's Today in the 9am hour.
    • Lisa Kudrow (Friends/The Comeback) - Lisa visits The Late Late Show with James Corden at 12:37am on CBS.
    • Paul F. Tompkins (DAG) - Paul is a guest on @midnight on Comedy Central at midnight.
    • Milana Vayntrub (Other Space) - Milana appears on @midnight on Comedy Central at midnight.
    • Terry Crews (Brooklyn Nine-Nine/Are We There Yet?/Everybody Hates Chris) - Terry stops by Conan at 11pm on TBS.
    • Andy Daly (Review/Eastbound & Down) - Andy appears on Conan at 11pm on TBS.
    • Christian Slater (Breaking In) - Christian guest co-hosts LIVE! with Kelly, so check your listings.
    • Brooklyn Decker (Grace and Frankie/Friends with Better Lives) - Brooklyn is a guest on Harry, so check your local listings.
    • NeNe Leakes (The New Normal) - NeNe guest co-hosts a repeat of The Real, so check your local listings.
    • Jenna Elfman (Imaginary Mary/1600 Penn/Accidentally on Purpose/Courting Alex/Dharma & Greg) - Jenna will be on ABC's Good Morning America sometime between 7-9am.
    • Craig Ferguson (The Drew Carey Show) - Craig is a guest on NBC's Today in the 10am hour.
    • George Lopez (Lopez/George Lopez) - George discusses the second season of Lopez on the AOL Build Show at 5:30pm.