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Spectrum's Mad About You reboot is nothing to get upset about


Married with child: Paul Reiser/Helen Hunt return 20 years after the original left NBC for Mad About You reprise.
Spectrum Orlginals photo

Premiering: Wednesday, Nov. 20th, with first six episodes available via Spectrum Originals On Demand
Starring: Paul Reiser, Helen Hunt, Abby Quinn, Richard Kind, John Pankow, Kecia Lewis, Anne Ramsay
Produced by: Peter Tolan, Helen Hunt, Paul Reiser, Brian Volk-Weiss, Michael Pelmont, Matthew Ochacher

@unclebarkycom on Twitter
Reboot mania has slowed its frenetic pace this season, although not to a crawl just yet.

On the sitcom front, CBS had a flop last season with a Murphy Brown reprise while NBC is wrapping up its second coming of Will & Grace and ABC is still gainfully airing The Conners after the Roseanne re-do’s namesake tweeted her way out of the picture.

Mad About You, from the same era as the aforementioned, otherwise is different in two key respects. Most important: the overall lack of availability. You’ll have to be a Spectrum cable subscriber to see the series, whose first six episodes arrive commercial-free via the service’s On Demand arm.

Furthermore, the second comings of Roseanne, Will & Grace and Murphy Brown were rife with references to the Trump administration in their first episodes. Characters took sides and then squared off. But Mad About You re-arrives in a complete political vacuum. Paul and Jamie Buchman (original co-stars Paul Reiser, Helen Hunt) remain in Trump’s original lair of Manhattan. But there’s nary a mention of his presidency in the first five episodes made available for review, not even from their now college age daughter, Mabel (Abby Quinn). She’s anything but an activist in a first episode where Mabel’s sole goal is relocating to a New York University dorm room and putting the parents behind her.

The principal issue in Episode One is Mabel’s failure to make her bed before leaving home. Upon discovering this, Jamie is greatly vexed while Paul already has gotten past his initial weepiness over their only child leaving home. Back-and-forth they go, with Hunt and Reiser still quite adept at playing off one another. It’s the reboot’s biggest plus side, even if their sometimes playful dickering is much ado about essentially nothing.

Returning supporting characters include Jamie’s older sister, Lisa (Anne Ramsay), Paul’s cousin, Ira (John Pankow), and Paul’s longtime friend, Dr. Mark Devanow (Richard Kind). A lack of diversity in the original series is addressed by Mark remarrying an African-American therapist named Tonya (Kecia Lewis). She turns out to be a big plus, particularly in an Episode 5 where Jamie re-enters the work force as Tonya’s therapist-in-training. “Now let’s go fix some people” serves as Tonya’s rallying cry. For his part, Paul is now running a small post-production film studio.

The original Mad About You ran for 164 episodes and seven seasons on NBC, ending in 1999. Hunt won four consecutive lead actress Emmys and was nominated in that category for the show’s other three seasons. Reiser ended up settling for six nominations. The show itself never won an Emmy for best comedy series, but these were glory years for broadcast network sitcoms. The competition not only included Roseanne, Murphy Brown and Will & Grace, but also Cheers, Seinfeld, Designing Women, Frasier, Friends and Wings.

Spectrum’s Mad About You reboot, with a second helping of six more episodes coming on December 18th, is agreeable enough to coax some smiles and even a little audible laughter on occasion. As when Paul traverses the distance from kitchen to apartment door while riffing, “Is the place getting bigger? Twenty years ago, I would have been there already.”

Best of all, the show isn’t an embarrassment. It smoothly goes through its paces, with Hunt and Reiser engaged and looking happy to be together again. The “plots,” such as they are, tend to be mostly thin soup. Jamie resents never being offered a toothpick by Paul after a restaurant meal. Paul works himself into a frazzle over the idea of getting naked in view of Mark for a post-workout steam bath.

And in the show’s so far lone jab at current societal issues, it’s cringe-worthy to see Paul being branded as “just another misogynist who doesn’t get it” by an aggressively “woke” NYU film student.

So no, you’re not likely to renounce your current cable or satellite service for the sole purpose of getting to see the new Mad About You. But for those who are already in tow, this is a nice little bonus that goes down easily and amiably.

GRADE: B-minus

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Back to Life gives Showtime a gem of a shortform series

Daisy Haggard plays a somewhat comical ex-con in Back to Life. Showtime photo

Premiering: All six episode are available Sunday, Nov. 10th on Showtime
Starring: Daisy Haggard, Geraldine James, Richard Durden, Adeel Akhtar, Christine Bottomley, Liam Williams, Jamie Michie, Jo Martin
Produced by: Sarah Hammond, Debbie Pisani, Daisy Haggard, Kate Daughton, Laura Solon, Chis Sweeney, Harry Williams, Jack Williams

@unclebarkycom on Twitter
Convicted of a murder she actually did commit (although unintentionally), a teen returns home 18 years later with hopes of becoming whole again if only people will let her.

This also was the basic premise for Sundance TV’s Rectify, which had a deadly serious four-season run. Showtime’s six-episode Back to Life, available in its entirety on Sunday, Nov. 10th, is far lighter on its feet, and certainly none the worse for it. Billed as a comedy but in equal parts dramatic, this stellar BBC production can be navigated in one sitting, thanks to a total length of less than three hours. The time will fly by, and the ending won’t leave you hanging. There’s room for a Season Two if the principals are game. If not, enjoy Back to Life for what it is and probably should be -- a short-form series that knows its limits and where it’s going.

Most enjoyable is Daisy Haggard’s centerpiece character of Miri Matteson, whose small coastal hometown in Hythe, Kent remains in a collective mood to ostracize her. Unlike Rectify, her time behind bars is never revisited. Instead she’s picked up outside prison walls by her judgmental mum Caroline (Geraldine James) and more supportive pup Oscar (Richard Durden). They’ve kept their only child’s bedroom as is, with posters of Prince and David Bowie reminding her that life can be all too perishable.

Miri has no interest in closeting herself. She very much wants to get a job, and Oscar is all for that.

“We can’t keep her locked up,” he tells Caroline, who retorts, “Oh, she’ll be fine. She’s used to it.” The snappy writing kicks in early and never flags, with Back to Life deftly navigating from hilarious to poignant and back again. It’s also graphic with its euphemisms for sex acts and the requisite body parts. One such recurrent coupling, which won’t be revealed, is very much on the down low.

Meanwhile, Miri successfully applies for a job at a fledgling fish and chips shop run by young bloke Nathan (Liam Williams). Their rapid-fire byplay is letter-perfect. “I can clean a toilet until it shines like the sun,” she assures him.

Miri also meets a next door neighbor named Billy (Adeel Akhtar), who’s both a gardener and caretaker to a batty, profane older woman. Bubbling up from Miri’s past are ex-boyfriend Dom (Jamie Michie), now loutish and married, and best girlfriend Mandy (Christine Bottomley), who for reasons to be explained later never wrote or visited during those 18 years of incarceration for killing fellow bestie Lara.

Back to Life is also about a town that with few exceptions is collectively without pity or empathy. Someone sprays “Psycho Bitch” in bright red letters on the Matteson home. Later on, a brick is thrown through the front window of the fish and chips eatery, leaving Miri bleeding from the head. Mum is also wounding Miri by distancing herself. This all comes to a head during a cathartic Episode 4.

The serious business of Back to Life gives the series some heft while Miri’s comical parole officer Janice (Jo Martin) and a daftly inquisitive cop (in Episode 5) keep things from going full tilt Rectify -- or anything close.

Haggard’s performance (she’s also a co-writer) is a marvel, whether she’s exuding vulnerability or dishing the sass. Used and abused but never quite de-fused, she propels Back to Life to the top tier of this season’s newcomers, with ample help from a crackerjack ensemble.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net