No Hugs, No LearningComplications Ensue
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Saturday, September 22, 2007

If you want to see what happens when you try to produce a 1980s sitcom in the Naughties, check out BACK TO YOU. It's James Burrow's new sitcom, a vehicle for Kelsey Grammer (CHEERS, FRASIER) and Patricia Heaton (the wife in EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND). The jokes are not necessarily predictable, but unsurprising and unrevelatory. Grammer's character, a pompous girl-chasing blowhard with heart, has no real edge. Neither does Heaton's. It's the kind of show where if you actually do laugh, you hate yourself immediately afterwards.

Also, it's a premise pilot. The show was very much showing that. Do we really need everything explained to us? The BACK TO YOU pilot, as far as I'm concerned, is Exhibit A for why we don't love premise pilots any more. The premise is that Grammer's character worked with Heaton's character, then went on to greener pastures, then screwed up and returned to Pittsburg. So guess what? We need a scene of them in wigs, working together. Then the scene of Grammer screwing up. Then a big scene of Grammer returning and meeting everyone.

Oh, come on.

(Oh, and, we heard "Come on" a lot. There were a LOT of handles in the dialogue. Look! Come on! And a lot of sighs. Boy do I hate sighs. They just let all the air out of a scene.)

SEINFELD'S famous rule was "no hugs, no learning." There was an awful lot of learning on this episode, and even a hug.

So: if you'd like to see a lot of VERY talented people deliver an overcooked burger on a stale bun, check out BACK TO YOU.

BACK TO YOU premiered Wednesday on Fox and Global.



Premise pilots are bad? Hm. Is that a universal rule now? Because I can think of some instances where a premise pilot worked splendidly. Firefly, for example.

By Blogger Elver, at 9:18 PM  

Except the network didn't AIR the premise pilot. They insisted Joss write a new episode. Hence "The Train Job."

Also, that was a two hour pilot. If you go with the double-length pilot, it has room to do its pilot work and still breathe.

By Blogger Alex Epstein, at 9:39 PM  

Oh, and, much as I love FIREFLY, it's not a good example of anything, is it? It was cancelled after 11 episodes.

Anyway, yes, there are premise pilots still. But try to avoid them where possible.

The pilot I just wrote is a premise pilot, 'cause inescapable. The pilot I wrote before that wasn't, because it didn't have to be.

By Blogger Alex Epstein, at 9:41 PM  

Alex, I enjoyed reading your comments, as I had just read Ken Levine's thoughts on the pilot and agreed more with you. I think he's right that there were a few scattered bits that were well-executed, but it was all recycled nonsense otherwise.

Can't wait for the teleprompter gags.

By Blogger Jeff Greco, at 3:02 AM  

Ken Levine, as you know, gives a very positive review of the show on his blog. I haven't seen it, but I think I you probably ten to agree with you, Alex. I find I have difficulty watching these traditional multi-camera shows, now, unless it's something like a Seinfeld rerun. I just can't stand the forced set-up-then-insert-joke-here humour that so many of them have, nowadays. To me, the first time I watched Larry Sanders, I realized what a sitcom COULD be. To me, that's the future of comedy on television.

By Blogger Unknown, at 3:46 AM  

While I haven't seen Back To You, and probably won't, I do have to wonder about how writers should take "No hugs, no learning." Is that phrase a new general principle of how TV should be? Or is it something specific to the show?

For instance, Battlestar Galactica is distanced from the older version by setting a rule: No funny-looking aliens. And that rule helps set the aesthetic for the show. The fact that BSG follows the rule, however, doesn't imply that all sci-fi shows now must eschew the blue bug-eyed alien type.

So are today's sitcom viewers inherently opposed to the "hug and cry and learn and grow" format that dominated when the biggest sitcom stars were Gary Coleman and Charlotte Rae? Or is it possible to choose that and do it well?

By Blogger Andrew, at 6:47 AM  

Oh, come on. It’s only the pilot and you are comparing it to Seinfeld. That seems fair. Can we please give it at least four, just four, shows before we start trashing it. The pilot was fine. Not great, not good, just fine. Let them get their sea legs, please.

And Fox didn’t air the “Firefly” pilot and that was wrong. That’s why the series had no shot with the uninitiated public.

By Blogger DJ, at 9:39 AM  

You sort of just have to get over the pilot episode of any sitcom these days.

There's not a lot of shows I've watched from Day 1. And most of the ones I do - I don't stick with until the end.

Saw the pilot of the USA version of the office recently (which I'd never seen before) - it wasn't spectacular. really, the show came into its own in the 2nd season. glad they didn't cancel it.

By Blogger Nathania Johnson, at 3:59 PM  

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