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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:
20 GOOD YEARS (NBC)
(Wednesdays at 8:00/7:00c this fall)
The network's description: "This high-energy comedy follows two New Yorkers who have finally realized that life doesn't last forever. Mismatched buddies John Mason (Emmy Award winner John Lithgow, "3rd Rock from the Sun"), an impulsive, thrice-divorced surgeon who has been forced into retirement -- and Jeffrey Pyne (Jeffrey Tambor, "Arrested Development"), a widower judge who agonizes over every situation -- are polar opposites in every way. The one thing the duo can agree on is that they only have about 20 good years left and both men vow to live each day as if it were their last -- with no regrets. "20 Good Years" also stars Heather Burns ("Bewitched") as John's pregnant daughter Stella, and Jake Sandvig ("The Story of Us") as Hugh, Jeffrey's un-motivated son."
What did they leave out: That's pretty much it.
The plot in a nutshell: Sixtysomething best friends John Mason (John Lithgow) and Jeffrey Pyne (Jeffrey Tambor) are both facing their late-life crises. For multi-divorcee John it's being put out to pasture at the hospital and for Jeffrey it's his girlfriend's (Judith Light) ultimatum that they get married. At his birthday party however John decides he's not going to let the last "20 good years" slip by and that he and Jeffrey should live each day to the fullest. More specifically to try something they've never done before each day - in the pilot's case, jumping into the freezing ocean first thing in the morning. After some prodding - John is the loud, charismatic one and Jeffrey is the quiet, nebbish one - Jeffrey agrees to go along and so their adventure begins. Along the way we also meet their grown children - John's daughter Stella (Heather Burns), a schoolteacher who's decided to get pregnant on her own and Jeffrey's son Hugh (Jake Sandvig), who recently dropped out of college to become a model.
What works: In today's single-camera dominated TV landscape, it's downright refreshing to see a good old-fashioned sitcom done right. Lithgow essentially drives the show, reminding us why he won three Emmys for "3rd Rock from the Sun." His manic, boisterous delivery is uniquely his own and is great to see back on TV again. Tambor is no slouch either and his presence gives Lithgow a great springboard. Another refreshing aspect is that this isn't four mean-spirited people ripping on each other for a half an hour. Lithgow and Tambor simply take the concept and run with it, diving head first into even the goofiest of aspects (Lithgow, for instance, appears in a Speedo more than once). The show also wisely avoids any kind of "aren't old people crazy" leanings (i.e. there's no rapping granny) as any idiocy is a result of the characters themselves rather than sixtysomethings as a whole.
What doesn't: It's not going to revolutionize the television comedy or even signal the revival of the multi-camera sitcom, but it is darn funny. And that's all that matters.
The challenges ahead: Can NBC spearhead a comedy block on Wednesday nights, something it hasn't tried in years?