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 (April/May)

    Diff'rent Strokes - The Complete Fifth Season Father Knows Best - Season Five The Wayans Bros. - The Complete Second Season ALF - The Complete DVD Collection The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air - The Complete Series

    04/04 - Diff'rent Strokes - The Complete Fifth Season
    04/11 - Father Knows Best - Season Five
    04/11 - Schitt's Creek - The Complete Third Season
    04/11 - Silicon Valley - The Complete Third Season (Blu-ray)
    04/11 - Veep - The Complete Fifth Season
    05/02 - Red, White and Blue Collar Sitcoms - Make TV Great Again
    05/09 - ALF - The Complete DVD Collection
    05/09 - Divorce - The Complete First Season (Blu-ray)
    05/09 - The Wayans Bros. - The Complete Second Season
    05/16 - The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air - The Complete Series
    More TV DVD Releases / DVD Reviews Archive / SitcomsOnline Digest


    Sitcoms Airing Tonight

    Monday, May 29

    Kevin Can Wait - "Pilot" (CBS, 8:00PM ET/PT) (Repeat)
    Kevin James stars as a newly retired police officer looking forward to spending carefree, quality time with his wife and three kids, only to find he faces tougher challenges at home than he ever did on the streets.

    Man with a Plan - "Adam Steps Up" (CBS, 8:30PM ET/PT) (Repeat)
    When Adam’s oldest daughter experiences a momentous occasion while Andi is unavailable, he tries to keep his cool and gingerly guide her through it. Also, Andi takes Emme and Teddy to the zoo, but instead gets stuck in traffic along with Emme’s annoying talking toy.

    Superior Donuts - "Crime Time" (CBS, 9:00PM ET/PT) (Repeat)
    Franco encourages Arthur to increase his security when Fawz’s dry-cleaning store is robbed, but becomes concerned when Arthur buys a gun. Also, Tush offers Maya his personal approach to protecting herself.

    2 Broke Girls - "And the Himmicane" (CBS, 9:30PM ET/PT) (Repeat)
    When a hurricane approaches the area, Caroline fears that a big divorce party she’s planning for a wealthy couple will get broken up when the unhappy pair get stranded in close quarters at the dessert bar. Also, Max worries that Randy really did break up with her when she suspects he’s blocking her calls, and Oleg is jealous when Sophie is stuck at home during the storm with their handsome new “manny.”

    American Dad - "Bazooka Steve" (TBS, 10:00PM ET/PT)
    Steve becomes the town pariah after he convinces the star quarterback of the arena football team to stop playing; Roger forces Hayley to become a cab driver to pay him back for her gambling debts.

    Angie Tribeca - "If You See Something, Solve Something" (TBS, 10:30PM ET/PT)
    A naked woman crawls out of a child's backpack and doesn't remember a thing; Geils and Tanner track down a murderer on the run from prison.

    Complete TV Listings


    Sitcom Stars on Talk Shows (Week of May 29)

    Monday, May 29

    • Bryan Cranston (Malcolm in the Middle) - Watch Bryan on a repeat of Jimmy Kimmel Live! at 11:35pm on ABC.
    • Patton Oswalt (The Goldbergs/The King of Queens) - Patton is a guest on a repeat of The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon at 11:34pm on NBC.
    • Mayim Bialik (The Big Bang Theory/Blossom) - Mayim appears on a repeat of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert at 11:35pm on CBS.
    • America Ferrera (Superstore) - America is a guest on a repeat of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert at 11:35pm on CBS.
    • Ike Barinholtz (The Mindy Project) - Ike appears on a repeat of Late Night with Seth Meyers at 12:36am on NBC.
    • Jenna Elfman (Imaginary Mary/Courting Alex/Accidentally on Purpose/Dharma & Greg) - Jenna is a guest on a repeat of Late Night with Seth Meyers at 12:36am on NBC.
    • Ricky Gervais (The Office) - Ricky visits LIVE! with Kelly and Ryan, so check your listings.
    • Keesha Sharp (Are We There Yet?/Girlfriends) - Keesha appears on a repeat of Harry, so check your local listings.
    • The Love Boat Cast - The cast of The Love Boat reunites on NBC's Today in the 9am hour.
    • Mike Epps (Uncle Buck/Survivor's Remorse) - Mike is a guest a repeat of Steve Harvey, so check your local listings.