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!


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    Complete TV Listings


    Sitcom Stars on Talk Shows (Week of April 19)

    Tuesday, April 20

    • Ellen DeGeneres (The Ellen Show/Ellen/Open House) - Catch Ellen on Jimmy Kimmel Live! at 11:35pm on ABC.
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    • Ed Helms (Rutherford Falls/The Office) - Ed will be on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, so check your local listings.
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