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.
AIRED ON 5/8/2014
Season 1 : Episode 7