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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:
IN CASE OF EMERGENCY (ABC)
(TBA at midseason)
The network's description: "Who you were in high school is usually not who you end up being. Harry, Jason, Sherman and Kelly all went to the same high school. Several years on since graduation, their lives haven't exactly turned out the way they planned. Diet guru Sherman will hijack a pastry truck and over-indulge after discovering his wife left him and cleaned him out. In the face of a fraud indictment, financial whiz Jason will dodge the suicide bullet only to shoot himself in the foot... literally. Unhappily divorced, Harry goes for a relaxing "massage," only to discover his scantily clad "masseuse" is Kelly, their high school valedictorian. A series of emergencies will reunite this hapless brood and they'll find, at the end of the day, that they've got each other in case of emergency. Director Jon Favreau ("Elf," "Swingers") directs Jonathan Silverman ("Jekyll"), David Arquette ("Scream"), Greg Germann ("Ally McBeal") and Kelly Hu ("The Scorpion King") as a fresh quartet of emotionally and physically injured oddballs, and Lori Laughlin ("Full House") as the doctor who grounds them all. Together, they're proving that any colossal mistake can be overcome with a lot of help from your friends... and pain killers.
What did they leave out: As usual, that about covers it.
The plot in a nutshell: Harry (Jonathan Silverman), Jason (David Arquette), Sherman (Greg Germann) and Kelly (Kelly Hu) were all friends back in high school (or in the case of Kelly, only acquaintances) and have, like most people, lost touch over the years. But one bizarre night is about to reunite them all. It all begins with Harry, whose dreams of writing the Great American Novel have since been shelved in favor of a dead-end job writing greeting cards. Divorced with a six-year-old son (Nicholas Roget-King), he decides to seek companionship at a Korean massage parlor. As luck would have it though, his "masseuse" turns out to be Kelly, their high school's valedictorian who at the time was on track to become an international lawyer. And if that weren't awkward enough, Harry just happens to be there when Kelly's psychotically jealous boyfriend shows up. Meanwhile, Sherman and Jason are going through their own mid-life crises. For Sherman (a formerly fat kid who parlayed his weight loss plan into a multi-million dollar business), it's finding out his wife is leaving him, a decision which causes him to steal a pastry truck and overdose on sugar. For big-time executive Jason, it's finding out he's at the center of an Enron-esque scandal that will cost him (as well as Harry and Sherman) their retirement funds. A botched suicide attempt later, he's laid up in the hospital where his "in case of emergency" contact turns out to Harry. There the foursome eventually cross paths - as well as meet a caring doctor (Lori Loughlin) - and decide they're going to get through their respective rough patches together.
What works: Somewhere in here is a solid show, but one can't help be underwhelmed by the initial product. Silverman, Arquette and Loughlin have all toplined their own projects in previous years so there's definitely a strong ensemble going in. And the show's offbeat tone and premise certainly make it stand out from your average single-camera show (i.e. "Big Day" or "Notes from the Underbelly") but...
What doesn't: ...it's more funny in theory than in actual execution. "Arrested Development" pulled off similar (or in most cases even crazier) plots with a style and tone that was unique in itself while "Emergency" just sort of plods along. The actors behave as if they are waiting for a piped in laugh track to tell them their mugging for the camera is funny rather than actually being funny. And unfortunately the show constantly falls into the "you see, isn't this funny?" trap. In other words, any remotely funny joke or plot is beat to death over and over. Sherman used to be fat and now that he's freaking out he stuffs his face with sweets! Didn't get that? Okay, let's have him stuff even more crap in his mouth! Wash. Rinse. Repeat. The same goes for Harry's sad sack routine (he lives in his parents' old house - and it's still decorated like old people live there!) and Kelly's boyfriend (he's realllly angry!). There's just no finesse to the show, just big loud sounds. It's a shame too because this looked like one of ABC's more interesting comedies this season.
The challenges ahead: With four new comedies launching this fall (and "George Lopez" and "According to Jim" returning after "Dancing With the Stars" wraps) will ABC find any more room on its schedule for another comedy?