[06/21/07 - 05:57 PM]
The Futon's First Look: "Playing Chicken" (FOX)
By Brian Ford Sullivan (TFC)

Please note: As a courtesy, please do not reproduce these comments to newsgroups, forums or other online places. Links only please.

Welcome once again to our annual "first look" at the broadcast networks' offerings for the 2007-2008 season. Each day we'll walk you through one of the new series set to premiere this season and go over our initial impressions after viewing the pilot. While it's still a little early for full reviews (some recasting and reshooting will be done on a good chunk of them), we still want to give you a heads up on what you should - and shouldn't - keep on your radar in the coming months.

And as an added bonus this year, each day we'll also take a look at one of the pilots that didn't make the cut. So enough of our rambling, on with the show!

(pilot not ordered to series)

The network's description: "America is more politically polarized than ever. More and more of us are discovering political divisions within our own homes. These were once predominantly generational divides the liberal, idealistic young clashing with the conservative, older Establishment. Today, all bets are off. Your ideological nemesis could be your best friend, your wife or even your very own brother. Such is the case with JAKE (Tony Award winner Norbert Leo Butz, "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels") and TIM (actor/comedian Bill Burr, "Late Show with David Letterman," "Chappelle's Show"). Jake is a tough, brash, obnoxious, call-it-as-I-see-it conservative. His brother Tim is a passionate, opinionated, but lazy liberal. They agree on almost nothing. The boys grew up in Madison, Wisconsin. While Jake was off hunting, dirt-biking or drinking with his buddies in the country, Tim was reading, going to art films or hanging out at the university. Eventually, Tim moved to New York and began teaching middle-school English, while Jake remained in Wisconsin, where he worked as a roofer and partied with his rowdy friends. When one of those friends challenged Jake to a game of chicken on jet skis and neither of them turned out to be chicken, Jake wound up in a wheelchair. Tim left his job and his rent-controlled apartment to return to Madison and help with his brother's rehabilitation. A year later, the fiercely determined Jake is largely independent. Now Jake's roommate, Tim picks up subbing gigs at local schools and works on his novel. The brothers disagree, argue and go to insane lengths when trying to make a point. The only person who dominates them is their mother DONNA (Marianne Muellerleile, "Life with Bonnie"), a caustic, large-and-in-charge bulldozer of tough love. Widowed for three years, she recently opened herself up to the possibility of a love life by moving into a community for retired singles. Along with their dim, sweetly enthusiastic childhood friend KARL (Jake Busey, "Enemy of the State") and Jake's lovely, quirky and compassionate physical therapist COLETTE, Tim and Jake continue to wrestle with the politics of the world and the family PLAYING CHICKEN until somebody flinches first. PLAYING CHICKEN is from Warner Bros. Television and Werner-Gold-Miller. Tom Werner ("That 70s Show," "3rd Rock from the Sun," "The Cosby Show"), Jimmy Miller ("Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby," "Borat") and Mike Clements are executive producers."

What did they leave out: It's really not as "political" as the description would have you to believe.

The plot in a nutshell: Tim (Bill Burr) and Jake (Norbert Leo Butz) are like all brothers on TV - on the surface they don't get along but when push comes to shove they've got each other's backs. Such was the case when Jake ended up in a wheelchair after a game of jet ski chicken (hence the title), forcing Tim to leave his cushy job and rent controlled apartment back East to return home to Madison, Wisconsin and help take care of him. Not helping them in their transition is the boys' mom (Marianne Muellerleile), who's recently moved into a retirement community, begun dating - the horror - a Vikings fan ("Big Love's" Joel McKinnon Miller) and unfortunately uses the word "freakin'" on a regular basis. Equally as unhelpful is Jake's dim-bulb best friend (Jake Busey) while his physical therapist Colette (Alanna Ubach) is just, kind of... there. The crux of the plot then is a vaguely "political" argument/$100 bet between Tim and Jake about homeless people. It seems that Tim, being the bleeding heart liberal he is, gives them money at every turn while Jake, being the icy, staunch conservative he is, says they should be left to their own devices and not be given handouts. (The bet hinges on whether Tim's latest charity case will be back out begging the next day.) Tim initially thinks he's won but shortly thereafter the police tell them the guy died of a drug overdose. Taken back by the news, Tim decides to make friends with another homeless guy (seriously, I'm not making this up), instead bringing him home to watch the latest Packers/Vikes showdown where he hopes he can inspire him to get off the streets. Unfortunately, he doesn't adjust as well as Tim expects. It all ends with (I guess) neither Tim nor Jake being proven right and the homeless guy taking a dump in their sink. Again, seriously, I'm not making this up.

What works: There's just no other way to say it other than...

What doesn't: ...it's a mess plain and simple. Ill-conceived, grating and flat out unfunny, "Chicken" is the comedy equivalent of ABC's "Mr. & Mrs. Smith." Where to even begin? As a "political" comedy it's embarrassingly toothless. As a character study it's mind-numbingly pedestrian. And as a comedy it's screechingly bad. Is it any surprise this is from the same brain trust - Werner-Gold-Miller - that brought us last year's "Happy Hour?" I honestly wish I could get the nerve to give you the blow-by-blow on its various issues, but that Sisyphusian task is for a much braver soul than I.

The bottom line: Be thankful you dodged this bullet.

  [june 2007]  


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