[07/28/06 - 12:00 AM]
The Futon's First Look: "'Til Death" (FOX)
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:

(Thursdays at 8:00/7:00c this fall)

The network's description: "'TIL DEATH is a comedy about middle-aged EDDIE (Brad Garrett, "Everybody Loves Raymond") and JOY STAMM (Joely Fisher, "Desperate Housewives"), who are on day 8,743 of their marriage and have the battle scars to prove it. Their new next-door neighbors are young newlyweds STEPH (Kat Foster, "Law & Order") and JEFF WOODCOCK (Eddie Kaye Thomas, "Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle") - idealistic, passionate, adorable and married for all of 12 days. It's a show about new marriage versus old marriage, about keeping the romance alive - or at least staying together so you have someone to drive you to the hospital for your operations. Eddie is a cynical realist who considers himself an expert on most topics. A high school history teacher, he's learned well the lessons of history and applies the basic principles to his marriage: all fights are about power, land and resources - and women love to kill fun. A veteran of the marriage wars, Eddie freely gives his advice to the younger, idealistic Jeff, who's the new Vice Principal at Eddie's school. Of course, Eddie's little secret all along is that he loves Joy more than anything. And however brash and sardonic Joy herself appears, she loves Eddie right back."

What did they leave out: That about sums it up.

The plot in a nutshell: Disgustingly happy newlyweds Steph (Kat Foster) and Jeff Woodcock (Eddie Kaye Thomas) are on their 12th day of marriage (or so a title card informs us), about to move into their first house in the suburbs. Their next door neighbors: Joy (Joely Fisher) and Eddie Stamm (Brad Garrett), currently on their 8,743rd day of marriage. Steph and Jeff make out at the drop of a hat while Joy and Eddie discuss her current skin issues at the breakfast table. Steph and Jeff enjoy going on runs together while Joy and Eddie's most recent birthday gift to each other was they could get fat. It's a distinction that will be at the root of nearly every joke. Anyway, it turns not only are they new neighbors but Jeff is also Eddie's new boss at the local high school (Jeff's the vice principal, Eddie's a history teacher). Joy then suggests they carpool to work together, an invitation Eddie begrudgingly accepts. As you can guess, Eddie's the curmudgeon while Jeff's the aw-shucks nice guy, unphased by the students' colorful use of his last name. Nevertheless, Eddie decides to give Jeff some advice about married life. Case in point: Jeff will never get the pool table he wants as women are apparently dream killers. Determined to prove him wrong, he presses the issue with Steph and eventually wins, or so he thinks. It turns out the pool table is too big for the dining room and Jeff must now pretend he loves it. It's a situation Eddie exploits to his enjoyment. In the end though, Jeff's wide-eyed attitude rubs off on Eddie, dulling his cantankerous edge.

What works: Much like Patrick Warburton in "Rules of Engagement," Brad Garrett's persona saves what should be a one-joke show. The producers also wisely don't make it "The Brad Garrett Show" as it's very much an ensemble instead of a star vehicle. Said arrangement takes the edge off Garrett's at times overbearing personality making a little of him go a long way. There's also a cute gimmick of little kids being interviewed about who they think they're going to marry intercut between acts.

What doesn't: On the flip side, this is still very much a one-joke show. Steph and Jeff are in love! Joy and Eddie vaguely tolerate each other! Get it! Wait, did you see that Steph and Jeff have sex all the time! And that Joy and Eddie barely ever have it! In other words, it's your typical beat-every-joke-to-death for the sake of the laugh track sitcom. Certainly it doesn't hold a candle to its single-camera competition ("My Name Is Earl") but those who stumble upon it may find it a decent way to spend a half hour.

The challenges ahead: Can FOX hope to launch a new sitcom block on Thursday nights against NBC's "My Name Is Earl" and "The Office?"

  [july 2006]  


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