[06/20/06 - 12:00 AM]
The Futon's First Look: "Class, The" (CBS)
By Brian Ford Sullivan (TFC)

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With the official start of the 2006-07 season less than three months away, the drumbeats have begun by the networks to tout their new comedies and dramas. What should you keep your eye out for? What should you avoid at all costs? While it's still a little early for full reviews (some recasting and reshooting will be done on a good chunk of them), we thought we'd spend the next month or so previewing what's in store for the upcoming season. Each day we'll look at one of the 39 new series set to premiere this season and go over our initial impressions after viewing the pilot.

There's no particular order here, just whatever's next on the stack of tapes. So without further ado, here's today's entry:

(Mondays at 8:30/7:30c this fall)

The network's description: "THE CLASS (Monday, 8:30-9:00 PM, ET/PT), from Emmy Award winner David Crane ("Friends") and Emmy Award nominee Jeffrey Klarik ("Mad About You"), is a comedy about the lives of a group of 20-somethings who are inextricably bound together having shared the same third grade class. Now face to face at an impromptu reunion to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the day they met, they wonder if they'll have anything in common besides vague memories of playground kisses and underwear sightings on the monkey bars. Turns out they do. After two decades apart for most of them, some are eager to show off, some want to rekindle old crushes and others just want to satisfy their curiosity. Whatever the case, their lives will intersect from this point forward, sharing childhood memories and dealing with adult issues -- career, relationships and the general direction or misdirection life will take them. Jason Ritter ("Joan of Arcadia"), Heather Goldenhersh ("The Merchant of Venice"), Lizzy Caplan ("Related"), Jon Bernthal ("Revenge of the Middle-Aged Woman"), Sean Maguire ("Eve"), Jesse Tyler Ferguson ("Putnam County Spelling Bee"), Lucy Punch ("Ella Enchanted") and Andrea Anders ("Joey") also star."

What did they leave out: That's more or less it.

The plot in a nutshell: A series of cold calls by Ethan (Jason Ritter) introduces us to the show's rather bulky ensemble cast. It seems he wants to invite all of the members of his third grade class to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the day he met his girlfriend (apologies as I didn't recognize the actress), also from said group. As you'd expect, their reactions range from the excited to the couldn't care less. But as luck would have it, the majority opt to come for various reasons - Duncan (Jon Bernthal), who's still living at home with his mother, wants to see his first love Nicole (Andrea Anders), who's now married to a football star (Eric Allen Kramer); Holly (Lucy Punch) has some harsh words for her then boyfriend but now gay Kyle (Sean Maguire); Richie's (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) suicide is literally interrupted by Ethan's call; Kat (Lizzy Caplan) goes just to mock people; and Lina (Heather Goldenhersh) looks to recover from been dumped by her boyfriend. At the party, the group more or less reconnects - Duncan and Nicole discover they still have chemistry (and that her marriage is on the rocks); Kyle apologies to Holly, just as we meet her closeted husband; Richie finds a reason to keep going in Lina; and Kat finds herself in damage control after Ethan's girlfriend dumps him in front of everyone. Presumably, said events will now cause the group to cross paths on a regular basis.

What works: To its credit, much like lead-in "How I Met Your Mother," there's a sweet, honest core to the show - that being how life has sent them all off in different directions and yet most of them are still searching for happiness.

What doesn't: Unfortunately, the core is wrapped in a (for the most part) unfunny shell. (The grating laugh track however would have you believe this is the funniest show in years.) And even worse, the few amusing parts are beat to death by either repeating the same joke 10 times (Duncan's mom is overbearing, get it!; Holly's husband is gay, did you catch that!) or over-the-top performances (Lucy Punch literally yells all of her lines). What's left then are just a bunch of mostly vanilla characters clinging to the tried-and-true sitcom cliches (late-night knocks at the door to confess one's love, check; montage sequences set to the latest pop hit, check). Overall it's a show that makes you appreciate the delicate balance "How I Met Your Mother" achieves - funny and sweet (despite using the very same sitcom cliches) - almost effortlessly.

The challenges ahead: Will CBS's sole comedy lineup survive with the still-wet-behind-the-ears "Mother" and "The New Adventures of Old Christine" as bookends? And with "The Class" as the hammock between "Mother" and "Two and a Half Men?"

  [june 2006]  


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