Hey TV.com, Should I Watch Surviving Jack?

By Tim Surette

Mar 26, 2014

It's late March, which means it's time for those midseason comedies that you never knew existed to make their largely unanticipated debuts and hope they'll do well enough to earn a second-chance slot on the schedule for next season, despite the odds being overwhelmingly against them. How tough is it out there for a late-midseason new comedy? If my ailing memory serves, 2012's Don't Trust the B---- in Apartment 23 was the last one to get a second season, while so many of its peers faded away as if they never existed at all. Remember The Family Tools? That wasn't even a year ago. Sorry for this depressing intro, but these are the cruel facts of television life. One of this year's lambs is Surviving Jack, which makes its debut this week. But can critical praise and fan fervor save it from execution? I've seen the pilot, and I'll help you determine whether it's worth your time. 

Surviving Jack? Who the eff is Jack and why do we need to survive him?

The Jack in this case is Dr. Jack Dunlevy, a stern father of two who channels every grumpy TV father who came before him. Surviving him is 16-year-old Frankie, a high-school freshman who's becoming a man right before America's eyes. Pretty typical stuff. Jack gets thrust into taking on most of the parenting duties when his wife decides to return to law school, meaning Frankie has to learn how to be a man while Jack learns how to be a dad. But the hook here is that Surviving Jack takes place in the early '90s, because all of a sudden the early '90s are, like, totally ancient times. Rounding out the Dunlevy family are mom Joanne, who channels every sensible TV mom who came before her, and older daughter Rachel, who channels every slightly slutty and rebellious TV daughter who came before her. Come to think of it, Surviving Jack does a lot of channeling what came before.

Whose show is this, and who stars in it?

Surviving Jack is based on the book I Suck At Girls by Justin Halpern, who also created the show. You may remember (but hopefully you don't) Halpern from his CBS sitcom Sh*t My Dad Says, which was based on a Twitter feed. The big news here is that this is Christopher Meloni's grand debut as a sitcom star (he plays grumpy dad Jack) after starring as Eliot Stabler on Law & Order: SVU for 384 years (and later spending a summer on True Blood). Connor Buckley is like a young Tom Hanks as Frankie, Rachael Harris (Suits) plays mom Joanne, and daughter duties go to Hart of Dixie's Claudia Lee.

When does Surviving Jack premiere?

Surviving Jack premieres Thursday, March 27 at 9:30pm right after American Idol. Even though it was initially given a 13-episode order, that number was cut down to eight due to a tight Fox schedule (or so the network says). 

Who might enjoy Surviving Jack?

It's impossible not to compare the show to ABC's The Goldbergs despite the five-to-10-year difference in setting, because the idea is the same. Nostalgia is prevalent, with early-'90s music cues coming at you like a skipping CD of Now That's What I Call the '90s!. The version of the pilot that I watched (which might not've had final licensed music) featured The Violent Femmes, Sarah MacLachlan, Marky Mark AND his Funky Bunch, and more. You can also expect Hypercolor T-shirts and blurry, late-night softcore-porn-viewing on scrambled cable channels. What all of this boils down to is, if you were born in the '70s or '80s and you're looking for a trip down memory lane, Surviving Jack might be a good route to take.

What's survivable about Surviving Jack?

Like most family comedies these days, Surviving Jack centers on a just-dysfunctional-enough family unit as its members face adversity and learn a heartfelt lesson in 22 minutes or less. No one really wants to watch a family crapping all over each other all day, right? Connor Buckley gives Frankie a perfect wide-eyed expression (even if he looks older than a high school freshman; he's 6'2" and it comes through on camera), and Claudia Lee is affable and prickly as Rachel. But Rachael Harris is the show's real charmer as an exhausted mom who's trying to prevent the household from collapsing.

What's not so great about the show?

There's nothing really new here. Like, nothing. The story in the pilot is your basic "horny teen tries to look at boobs and learns how to talk to girls while his grumpy dad busts his balls and then finally gives him some helpful advice just before the credits roll." Everyone eventually smiles, and then it's on to the next episode. It will be interesting to see whether Meloni can show off any comedy skills, considering that his character isn't that funny. In fact, laughs in the pilot aren't that plentiful, save for the one time the show ventures into parody with a stoner/surfer stereotype character who chimes in, "That's brutal." 

So, should I watch it?

Based on the pilot alone, I'd say Surviving Jack is entirely skippable, especially with the superior The Goldbergs airing earlier in the week (Tuesdays at 9pm on ABC!). But it's worth noting that The Goldbergs got off to a rough start and then grew into the show it wanted to be a few episodes in, so that could happen with Surviving Jack, too.

Let's take a look at a trailer!


Surviving Jack premieres Thursday, March 27 at 9:30pm on Fox.

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  • Huglyone Aug 20, 2014

    I normally agree wih Tim Surette , but Surviving Jack is way better then the Goldbergs ...
    Specially the Pilot , if the following episodes maintain the level it's very good comedy show specially if you lived in the 90's as a teenager ...
    A shame that was cancelled ...

  • AdedayoAdelakun Apr 08, 2014

    I am sorry but this show was actually very funny. I have watched the first 2 episode and i cant wait for the 3rd one. The 2 episodes so far on this shows is better than The Millers, Mom, Dads and all the really cr*p comedies that debuted this season. Yes it isn't a new premise or will it redefine the genre but its a good way to spend half an hour and just have fun. I recommend it guys.

  • dude19 Mar 30, 2014

    Don't see how a show about the early 90s in 2014 is any different from a show about the 70s in the 90s (That 70s Show) or a show about the 50s in the 70s (Happy Days). It may not feel like it, but the year 1990 was 24 years ago.

  • Blam1 Mar 28, 2014

    I watched the Pilot last night. I laughed so hard. I enjoyed it MUCH more than any episode of "The Goldbergs"

  • mrjimmyjames Mar 28, 2014

    True, it does seem as if Justin Halpern is about to go 0 for 2 in tv but his books are hilarious. Would have to recommend them.

  • Placebo_obecalP Mar 27, 2014

    Watched the trailer a few weeks ago and I laughed out loud 2-3 times, most comedies I watch I struggle to laugh out loud that many times in a whole 25 minute episode so it bodes well for this :)

  • Gislef Mar 27, 2014

    "No one really wants to watch a family crapping all over each other all day, right?"

    Well, three years of Titus indicates someone wanted to...

  • Gislef Mar 27, 2014

    "Surviving him is 16-year-old Frankie, a high-school freshman who's becoming a man right before America's eyes."

    First he's going to have to survive being called "Frankie" instead of Frank. We would have eaten someone called Frankie alive in high school. Or thought he was a she.

  • dude19 Apr 26, 2014

    That's not that feminine of a name so you obviously were either unimaginative dicks, had nothing better to do with your lives or both.

  • DesolaKazeem Mar 27, 2014

    hmm.....That's Lemon's sister from Hart of Dixie....
    That's literally the only comment I can muster.

  • Loooooooooooost Mar 27, 2014

    I love Christopher Meloni and toast. I'm in. (But I am not expecting much.)

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