Oh yeah, that guy: The Paul Reiser Show begs and borrows from other shows while its star frets about fleeting fame
04/13/11 08:24 AM
Premiering: Thursday, April 14th at 7:30 p.m. (central) on NBC
Starring: Paul Reiser, Amy Landecker, Ben Shenkman, Omid Djalili, Duane Martin, Andrew Daly
Created and produced by: Paul Reiser, Jonathan Shapiro
By ED BARK
Remember him? He seems to think that hardly anyone does despite his seven seasons on the hit NBC sitcom Mad About You.
Either that or Paul Reiser is being self-deprecating to the point of torpedoing his return to the Peacock after a 12-year absence. On-air promotions for The Paul Reiser Show, which premieres Thursday in place of the dreadful Perfect Couples, catch him in the act of instead pitching Will Ferrell's four-episode arc on The Office.
Here's how it goes: "So I guess the takeaway from this is, 'Will Ferrell's gonna be on The Office. Will people remember my show is on right before that?' I'm thinkin,' not so much. 'Oh, who is that nice man on TV, darling? Oh, I don't know. But I'm so glad he told us Will Ferrell is on The Office.' "
So under these circumstances, would you buy a used premise from this already defeated man? The Paul Reiser Show is by no means flat-out terrible. In fact, compared to Perfect Couples, it's a veritable murderer's row of Curb Your Enthusiasm, Men of a Certain Age and Seinfeld.
Unfortunately it's also transparently derivative of all three shows, with Reiser playing himself as a flustered married father of two sons who wonders what his next act is going to be after becoming duly rich via Mad About You. Each episode begins with Reiser riffing in the manner of Jerry Seinfeld during the early years of his show. On Thursday's premiere episode, one of four sent for review, Reiser says a fan recently told him, "You look exactly the same. Maybe a little fatter." He then laments, "This is my life now."
He's in fact chunkier, and at age 54, grayer, too. But in typical sitcom fashion, this doesn't stop him from having a younger, thinner, prettier actress cast as his wife. Claire is played by Amy Landecker, who's 41 in real life and looks more than a little like Courteney Cox. She mostly puts up with Paul, who wears his shirts unbuttoned and hanging out a la Ray Romano in Everybody Loves Raymond and now Men of a Certain Age.
Episode 1 features guest appearances by Curb's Larry David -- as himself, of course -- and producer Mark Burnett (Survivor, The Apprentice), who loves Paul's audition for a new game show called Start Thinking. David also has been offered this gig, which prompts the two of them to meet over lunch for a back-and-forth scene straight out of Curb. Larry's advice: "You should be doing your version of Curb Your Enthusiasm.' " Which is pretty much what Reiser is trying to do while also borrowing from Seinfeld's "show about nothing" motif and hanging around with four men of a certain age.
His doofus pals are anal Jonathan (Ben Shenkman), clueless Brad (Andrew Daly), Fernando the token black man (Duane Martin) and slap-sticky Habib (Omid Djalili), who owns a huge warehouse full of discarded products called Habib's Perfectly Goods. If this were the Five Stooges, Habib would be Curly. Except he'd only be about one-fifth as funny, even though his yoga class gyrations in the April 28th episode might qualify as guilty pleasure viewing.
Reiser otherwise seems content to cast himself as something of a hapless has-been whose agent can't get him anything better than a crummy game show with idiot contestants, an overseas spokesman's role for a tool company or a part as a violent drunken fisherman in a movie to be filmed in Iceland, where Mad About You reruns are just now airing.
Maybe fame really is that fleeting. But The Paul Reiser Show has an odd air of desperation about it, with its star flailing about like a carp on a ramshackle wooden pier.
It also doesn't help that the episodes are running oddly out of order. Which means that another of Reiser's agents, named Zeba (Mozhan Marno), is part of the mix in Thursday's premiere and a subsequent episode before being introduced as a new character in a scheduled May 5th outing subtitled "The Batting Cage." It also means that Reiser's second son suddenly rolls into view in a wheelchair after being entirely unseen in the first three episodes.
There are some random amusements sprinkled in. Reiser and company make a woefully bad basketball team, prompting the only good player, Fernando, to jab, "I've seen seals shoot better." The premiere episode's game show audition segment also has its moments, with Reiser rating it the "most degrading experience of my life. There is not a shower strong enough to cleanse my shame."
The Paul Reiser Show doesn't sink to those depths. And some viewers might even find it heartening to see the new Comcast-owned NBC presenting a relative oldster in a lead role for the second time this week after rebuilding Law & Order: L.A. around 57-year-old Alfred Molina.
Neither actor is likely to ring a lot of bells with prime-time TV's anointed-in-oil demographic -- 18-to-49-year-olds. But No. 4 NBC is desperate for any viewership at all, and might just settle at this point for overall tonnage rather than target audiences. The older you are, the more you might respond to the oft-clunky, middle-aged craziness of The Paul Reiser Show. In fact, you'll even know who he is -- and perhaps prefer him to Will Ferrell.