till smarting over the departure of “Arrested Development”? It’s hard not to be, considering that the major networks have placed less and less faith in the situation comedy genre in recent years than ever before. That said, in between the frightening neon game shows, tedious dramedies, and eight hours of “American Idol” each week, there are comedies being broadcast. Let’s take a quick look at a few of the newest programs that the networks have offered us this year.
“Rules of Engagement”
Who woulda thunk it. The cast member from “SNL”’s glorious mid ‘90s run still getting work? David Spade. But as the Onion’s recent salute to sidekicks proves, there’s always going to be work for that guy (see: Dick, Andy). Thus, going into “Rules,” I was mighty skeptical about the show’s possibility for anything other than the sort of formulaic drivel that has driven the sitcom into its current state of drudgery. Surprise! It didn’t disappoint. From the tired plotlines to the ridiculous one-note acting of the “newly engaged” couple (played by Oliver Hudson and Bianca Kajlich), “Rules” is nothing short of a well-oiled disaster. The only surprise? Patrick Warburton, whose aloof acting style is just as you might remember it from his role as Puddy in “Seinfeld,” but somehow works here in concert with both his wife Audrey, played by Megyn Price, and terminal bachelor Spade.
I’ll admit it. I wrote off “30 Rock” for a few months after its disappointing initial episode. (If you can’t get it together for the pilot…) But after a few stumbles, “30 Rock” has turned into one of the most consistently entertaining sitcoms since “Arrested Development.” What makes the show special? As nearly any TV commentator will tell you: Alec Baldwin. And Tracy Morgan. And the fact that the show makes fun of the fake show that it puts on (as opposed to certain other shows). Or Jane Krakowski. Actually, that last one is a lie. Morgan and Baldwin steal the show each week, with the subplots revolving around the writers, the actors, or the pages of NBC acting as mere buffers before the comedy can once again commence. It’s not great, but any show that features multiple Ghostface cameos in its first season can’t be all bad.
“Knights of Prosperity”
Donal Logue has to be one of the most frustrating comic actors working—one minute he’s ingeniously breaking down the Tao of Steve, the next he’s slumming it as a commentator for VH1’s “I Love the…” series. His latest project comes in a close second to “30 Rock” as one of the best new comedy series of the year. “Knights” ended its first season run last week on ABC with the unlikeliest of cliffhangers: how will this group of ragtag kids keep it together to rob Ray Romano? While at times the show descends into feel-good parody (“we’re the Knights, guys, and we’ll rob them together!” seemed to be an oddly familiar refrain that quelled any individual greed or doubt at the 18-minute mark of each 21-minute episode), the ways in which they get to those clichéd climaxes were anything but.
“The Class” also finished its first season run early this week. Like many of its episodes, the finale was full of stilted writing, decent-to-poor acting, and few laughs. TV Guide columnist Matt Roush eulogized the show in such a way that makes me believe that he has a job at a magazine that depends on being able to talk to the people involved with the show if, God forbid, they ever do something creative or interesting. Luckily, I don’t. Good riddance.
Sometimes, though, formula is good. Especially when you have someone as gifted as Brad Garrett involved in said formula. Laugh all you want, but for my money, Garrett has proven himself to be one of the finest sitcom actors of his generation. Surely, “sitcom actor” is faint praise, but the tools necessary in making a tired formula engaging and interesting (timing, facial expressions, etc.) are just as hard to perfect as anything else. Using an impeccable foil in Joely Fisher, Garrett infuses “Til Death” with more laughs than it has any business having.