You wouldn't know it from a cursory scan of popular TV, but there are other exciting places in the U.S. to live in besides New York City. Yet the all-seeing eye of TV keeps wandering back to NYC and it bizarro-world counterpart and neighbor, New Jersey, which has developed a reputation as home of the brassy and super-trashy. Made in Jersey expects you to already be well-versed in this stereotype, calling upon a pastiche of pop-culture tropes, from Stephanie Plum novels to Working Girl to the The Nanny. I mean, look at Martina Stromboli's hair!
The actress playing Martina Stromboli (not the character's actual last name, it but might as well be), Janet Montgomery, is engaging and natural and a pure delight, but she's about as "Jersey" as Kate Middleton, and dipped in and out of her accent throughout last night's series premiere. Despite looking more or less well-dressed to bumpkins like me, she was constantly told things like "You came in... looking like you!" so we could understand that she looks like HUMAN GARBAGE to the eyes of REAL New Yorkers.
However, this hasn't really held her back; in the opening scene she'd already been hired by a Big Awesome Law Firm, and by the end of the episode she'd risen through the ranks at a precocious speed and the guy with his name on the building was singing her praises, so it seems like her arc is not going to be a very dramatic one (maybe the big season finale will be her fighting to make Partner?). She uses her brassy experience with the working class to get clues her wealthy Prep school colleagues and the frou-frou NYPD detectives are too snobby to nose out. She CHATS with a WAITRESS!! I mean she basically IS the 99%.
She also has a big delightful stereotypical family that gets together for dinner with like eight sisters who all appear to be sassy supermodel models. Even if the big Jersey family has been done umpteen times, the Stromboli family's dinner was one of the highlights of the episode. If the writers can steer this ship closer to Martina's family and their Moonlighting vibe, they might even convince some viewers to record this show on their DVRs before heading out to enjoy their Friday night.
Because that's the elephant in the room, right? Premiering on a Friday night is bad news for a show, and Made in Jersey is not exactly the fun-filled escape from a workweek you might seek out when you're all TGIF'd up. The majority of the scenes unfold in a gray and brown legal office because ambitious Martina works non-stop. And the show will require the same level of engagement as, say, a high school math class, if this first "case" is any indication, with a flood of tiny bits of evidence trickling in throughout the episode. At a certain point I thought I'd need a notepad to keep track of everything, I actually got a little stressed out. In just this first episode the key evidence that was discussed at length included:
- a 'mosquito tone'
- substances which trigger luminals
- a series of illicit voicemails
- a brasserie alibi
- the cost of highlights
- DIY hair color
- a thumbprint on a ledge
- brick dust on a sleeve
- uncredited research
On and on... and weirdly, none of these clues really changed where the plot went. Nothing triggered a twist or a turn. Martina was convinced their young client was innocent, and every detail just reinforced that, a straight shot from a young girl accused of murder to all charges being dismissed.
The only real conflict in Martina's world is her bitchy Aryan co worker, a handsome blonde woman who undercuts her with super-inappropriate little one-liners. The dynamic is exactly that of Nanny Fine and C.C. Babcock. That may have been how this was pitched. "We want to set The Nanny at a law firm..."
With national treasure Kyle MacLachlan stepping in as the Max Sheffield analog.
Don't get me wrong, I loved The Nanny but it was a half-hour sitcom and this is an hour. An hour of puzzling over a foregone conclusion.
This is one of those rare instances when you have strong writers, a great lead, fine production, and just a lackluster premise. Martina is not dramatically brassy/sassy/different enough from the world of her colleagues to hinder her own progress, so the show craves conflict. It took a cartoon premise and really restrained it and the result is kind of tepid and completely humorless. Would I pause and watch this again? Mmmmmaybe... but then, I'm usually busy Friday nights.
... What city do you wish a TV series would be set in?
... Have you ever been to Jersey?
... If you haven't been to Jersey, do you still have a strong idea of what it's like and what is that based on?
... How did you like Made in Jersey?