Sunday, August 06, 2006

TV Review: Summer Time Blues #1: Yes, Dear

The combination of a summer full of reruns, Tivo, a sister with Netflix and a DVD burner, and unemployment is a dangerous combination. Please consult a doctor before undertaking this or any similar regimen.

With that warning and pseudo-explanation out of the way, allow me to start plowing through the things I've been watching lately that would never have caught my attention if new episodes of "House" and "My Name is Earl" were on. Thanks to Tivo, I have caught every single episode (except one that will air tomorrow morning) of:

Yes, Dear
Formerly on CBS and currently in syndication four times a day, "Yes, Dear" was a fairly generic family comedy about a successful man and his wife who let her sister and brother-in-law move into their guest house and the wacky hijinks that ensue. The jokes were slight variations on the same jokes you've heard on every other show about families who like to crack wise. Plots included such stock ideas as "I inherited a lot of money... but didn't take into account the taxes before I spent it all," "our one neighbor is really weird," and "my father-in-law and I don't get along."

Much like "Boy Meets World," which is another terrible show that I absolutely love, it switched gears during its run, abandoning the cookie cutter plots and jokes and becoming... well, not "good," but certainly different. Almost like a parody of the typical sitcom.

The second season came around and the show's writers infused more dark humor and made an effort to (at least at times) shun the wholesomeness of the typical family sitcom without sinking to "Married with Children" territory. Among the highlights are when Jimmy accidentally converts two Mormon missionaries to the ways of drinking and gambling on sports, Greg accidentally kills Jimmy's grandmother, and Greg trying to cure his son, Sammy, of bullying other kids at the park by arranging to have another kid come over to the house and beat up Sam in his own backyard, resulting in a bunch of other fathers coming over to wager on the fight.

This also marked the addition of out-of-continuity end gags over the credits, little scenes like you might expect on a gag reel from a DVD. In one, Jimmy and Christine apologize for breaking the Warners blender and washing machine and buy them new ones. Jimmy then goes off camera and brings in the twin brother of the kid playing Sam (since like most small children, he's played by twins) and swaps them out.

There is also a running gag that shows up about 6-8 times when someone has flashbacks to someone they miss, that always features the same sequence of events while Chicago's "Hard Habit to Break" plays. In one, Greg's recalling a woman who better sandwiches than his wife. He bites into Kim's sandwich, gets a bitter look, and "remembers" playing checkers with, brushing the hair of, singing and playing guitar with, and riding Razor scooters with the old lady. In another, Greg is playing with a Chewbacca action figure and "remembers" doing all the same things with a Star Wars fan, who dressed in a Sharper Image Chewy suit, from earlier in the episode.

Later, "Yes, Dear" became a surrealistic CBS promotional tool that often crossed the line of ridiculousness. Jimmy was chosen to be a contestant on "Big Brother." Greg's dad won a role as an extra on "J.A.G." at a silent auction. Jimmy and his friend met Jim Nance in New Orleans and wound up watching the Final Four from the CBS broadcast booth. Travis Tritt and Trace Adkins guest starred as convicts on work release just before the Country Music Awards. Greg has a dream that he's Steve from "Blue's Clues" and Kim, in turn, dreams she's in bed with Steve and makes out with him. Jimmy tries to get out of a ticket by helping a cop win a Showcase Showdown on "Price is Right." Rupert, from "Survivor," starred as a homeless guy in a soup kitchen.

I think the reason I enjoy the show as much as I do is that my expectations for it were so low. I intially watched it only because it was on at a time in the morning when nothing else was on, but became hooked because it makes regular use of two of my favorite comedy forms: blatantly stupid characters and people who get caught in lies and never admit they are lying regardless of the evidence against them.

Unfortunately, the show has two flaw that arise in nearly every episode. First, the writers often have one hilarious joke and spend a lot of time building up to it. While the one joke is laugh out loud funny, the fifteen minutes leading up to it are often dull and only mildly humorous. To express it mathematically, I would offer that--were you to rate the jokes on any given sitcom on a numerical scale--"Yes, Dear" maintains a similar "funny mean" to other shows, but it's median is much lower and standard deviation much higher because the one joke is rated so much higher than any other it pulls up the entire show's average.

If you want to see a graph, just ask. I love making graphs.

Second, the show often ends without any resolution. It's as though they reached twenty-one minutes and declared, "That's a wrap" wherever they were. One show ends with Greg and Jimmy hiding in the backseat of a neighbor's car and overhearing her tell someone on the phone, "Yeah, I just filled up so I won't have to stop again until I get there. See you in Vegas."

RECOMMENDED FOR: Parents of kids under the age of eight; absurdists; people who hate "Full House," "Family Matters," and other goody-goody family sitcoms.

NOT RECOMMENDED FOR: Childless people.

AV Rating: 3/5. Avoid the first season and give it a few episodes to grow on you. There is a subtlty to the chemistry between the actors that takes a while before you really appreciate some of the scenes, especially between Jimmy (Mike O'Malley) and Greg (Anthony Clark).

2 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

i discovered the show for almost exactly the same reasons. would have never watched it, because i am so over the young couples with young children sitcoms. talk about cookie cutter. but i agree, it grew on me until it was one of my top five tivo picks. i find the repeated 'memory sequence' hilarious, with all the different types of people doing exactly the same thing, to exactly the same song, right down to riding the scooters around the living room. the only differences are the people involved, the hair tools used, and the color of the string.
as to the lack of episode resolution, it has to do with the editing of the station that is showing them. the episode you mention actually ends with jimmy, greg and the woman in one bed in a sold-out las vegas hotel. greg or jimmy is on the phone asking for an additional bed if one comes up as the scene closes.

1:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't have kids and I like the show. I LOVE the daydream sequences. :D

8:53 PM  

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