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Welcome once again to our annual "first look" at the broadcast networks' offerings for the 2008-2009 season. Each day we'll walk you through one of the new series set to premiere next season and go over our initial impressions after viewing the pilot - or in this new post-strike/straight-to-series world, reading the pilot script. We'll start with the ones that were actually filmed and move on to the others in the coming weeks.
With that in mind, it's even more important to remember that a lot can change from what's being screened right now - recasting, reshooting, etc. - but we still want to give you a heads up on what you should (and shouldn't) keep on your radar in the coming months. Plus: as an added bonus, we've got a backlog of passed over pilots - some from this season, some from last season - we'll be tackling as well. So enough of our rambling, on with the show!
PROJECT GARY (CBS)
(written by Ed Yeager; directed by Ted Wass; TRT: 21:55)
The network's description: "PROJECT GARY stars Jay Mohr ("Ghost Whisperer") and Paula Marshall ("Nip/Tuck") in a comedy about Gary Barnes, a recently single painting contractor, and his controlling ex-wife, Allison, who face post-divorce mayhem after 15 years of marriage as they each embark on new relationships. He's the fun parent and she's the strict one. Together, they share custody of their two children - Louise (Laura Marano, "Without a Trace"), a politically correct and environmentally conscious 11-year-old, and Tom (Ryan Malgarini, "How to Eat Fried Worms"), their socially awkward 14-year-old son who is nervous around girls. Charming and acerbic, Gary hasn't dated since the split, but finally connects with Vanessa (Jaime King, "The Class"), a single mother whose condo he was hired to paint. He dreads telling Allison about Vanessa because it doesn't adhere to her belief in their marriage counselor's book, "Rules for the Perfect Divorce." However, when Allison tells him that she's engaged to their shrink, all bets are off and Gary decides it's time to move forward. Now, in pursuit of post-marriage happiness, Gary must juggle his eclectic world of an ex-wife, their two kids, their shrink and his gorgeous new girlfriend. Ed Yeager ("Still Standing") and Ric Swartzlander ("8 Simple Rules") are the executive producers for ABC Studios and CBS Paramount Network Television."
What did they leave out: Look for solid guest spots by Larry Miller and "Welcome to the Captain's" Al Madrigal.
The plot in a nutshell: Newly divorced Gary Barnes (Jay Mohr) has just had his first post-marital fling with Vanessa (Jaime King), one which not only broke his own personal record (Vanessa: "Two was a personal record?" Gary: "... Yeah.") but also opened him up to the possibility of a real relationship. Gary however has left out a few details about his life to Vanessa - that he's divorced and that he has two kids - and unfortunately for him, those details have just showed up on his doorstep. Horrified, she storms off leaving Gary to deal with his overly critical ex Allison (Paula Marshall), his relationship-challenged son Tom (Ryan Malgarini) and his wise-beyond-her-years daughter Louise (Laura Marano). As usual Allison is none too pleased with Gary's lifestyle and carefree attitude towards parenting. She's more concerned though about Tom's social skills as his only outlet as of late is the online game "Second Life." Gary agrees to talk to Tom about it ("Look at that 'Second Life,' wow, that's pretty cool. You know, we didn't have anything like that when I was a kid, we had, um... outside.") not to mention sets out to salvage his relationship with Vanessa. And while he makes some headway with her, he remembers he promised Allison to share when he started dating. Allison however has a bigger surprise - she's getting married... to their marriage therapist Dr. Crandle (the always great Larry Miller). Said revelation eventually leads everyone to yet again turn up on Gary's doorstep where Dr. Crandle holds an impromptu therapy session - where Vanessa reveals she too has a child of her own and is ready for a serious relationship. Overwhelmed, more so by the "serious" part of the pervious sentence, Gary nevertheless gets a handle on things in time to open the door for a new status quo.
What works: "Gary" turns out to be the first genuinely funny comedy of the new season, a fact that's further amplified after viewing the fall's other new half-hours ("Do Not Disturb," which we looked at last week, and "Worst Week," which we'll get to Wednesday). Jay Mohr proves to be more than capable as your stereotypical sitcom lead - the nice guy who's a few steps behind on figuring out how to handle things. His interactions with the kids actually turn out to be the show's highlights as he tries to smile through their quirkiness (Gary: "It's not that it's creepy, it's just that every inch of the wall in your bedroom is covered with pictures of either Al Gore or Mahatma Gandhi. Thank God you have that one picture of the guy from 'Entourage.'" Louise: "That's Che Guevara, Dad." Gary: "I don't know what the actor's name is Louise."). I'm less enthusiastic about how the women are written - wow, an ex-wife who's overly critical! - but they do serve their purpose if only to make Mohr either blush or squirm. But...
What doesn't: "Gary" is also very much a "situation comedy" in that it has a situation that could only exist in comedy. The show's relationships are at times a little too cute for my taste - Allison "just happens" to be getting married to their marriage counselor while Vanessa "just happens" to have been hiding the same kind of secret Gary was. And while I get the point - it's to up the ante on Gary's predicament - the similarly-themed "The New Adventures of Old Christine" manages to be several times funnier with a fraction of the plot. (And maybe it's just me - but wouldn't Gary already know that Vanessa had a kid, being that he was painting her condo?) In any case, while "Gary" may at times feel artificial...
The bottom line: ...its laughs are very real.