Is someone in the boardrooms of NBC Universal still mad about you, Paul Reiser?
In the '90s — as a contemporary of "the greatest television show of all time," according to TV Guide — your sitcom, Mad About You, was kind of a "Seinfeld Lite," a successful, whimsical series set in New York about the absurdities of everyday life, married-style. You lasted seven seasons, won a passel of Emmys, a Peabody Award, became the darling of Viewers for Quality Television. Your TV wife, Helen Hunt, used her experience alongside you to develop into an Academy Award-winning actress. Detroit's Don Was even helped compose your theme song, for pity's sake! You were extremely cool.
Your ratings made a buttload of money for NBC back in the day. They adored you, Paul. Isn't that enough? Can't you rest easy on those laurels? Apparently not, because as Dolly once sang, here you come again, this time with The Paul Reiser Show premiering at 8:30 p.m. tomorrow (Channel 4 in Detroit). A dozen seasons since your face last occupied a prime-time series, you seem determined to prove Thomas Wolfe wrong: You can go home again, but will anybody be there to welcome you back? Like that leering geezer at the end of the bar on Jerseylicious, you remember how to do it. It's just that nobody knows if you have the stamina to actually pull it off.
You are older, not necessarily wiser. But you are Reiser, since this time you're playing yourself. If we are to believe the new show's premise, in the years since Mad About You ended, you've been content to live a quiet life in L.A. with your real wife (played by A Serious Man's pretty, quirky Amy Landecker, not your real wife) and family. Yet you're still a bit of a player in the entertainment biz, enough so to retain a pair of clueless suck-ups as your management team. The part of the workup that rings truest is that as a father of school-age kids, your closest everyday friends often aren't lifelong chums or college buddies but the dads of other kids who attend your child's school.
In that regard you have amassed a United Nations of adult playmates. There's Habib (Omid Djalili, Gladiator), the Middle Eastern import-exporter with a warehouse chock-full of questionable goods; Fernando (Duane Martin, a personal favorite ever since Patti LaBelle's comedy Out All Night in the '90s), an African-American restaurateur who acts as peacekeeper of the group; Jonathan (Ben Shenkman), the tightly wrapped nebbish, and Brad (Andrew Daly), the WASP-y village idiot. Welcome to Men of a Certain Age: The Sitcom.
You certainly must have been watching a lot of TV during your sabbatical, because The Paul Reiser Show seems to have, uh, borrowed so many components from other series. Besides MOCA, it has the buddy-buddy, behind-the-sceney vibe of Entourage, the disjointed household high jinks (if not the outstanding writing) of Modern Family. You even open each episode with a short monologue, probably to remind us you are a comedian, just the way Mr. Seinfeld used to do. Mostly, though, your show has the pace and feel — not to mention the Yiddish violin soundtrack — of Larry David's Curb Your Enthusiasm, a comparison that isn't eased by David appearing as guest star in Thursday's premiere.
You have "name" guests in almost every episode, Paul, and that's nice. But again, like that old guy at the bar, you're giving off the scent of somebody who's trying too hard. Take next week's episode, centering around a stray neighborhood cat whose nighttime howls are keeping you and your wife from getting any sleep. The cat noises are credited to Mel Brooks! You wasted Mel Brooks to do off-camera feline screeches! The lighting guy could have done that! See what I mean?
The show does have its moments, Paul. Unfortunately, they are only moments, and fleeting. The funniest elements of The Paul Reiser Show are the bits of business that take place in the background of its scenes. For example, in next week's show featuring menacing, tattooed rocker-actor Henry Rollins who has a bone to pick with you; before the two of you have your major confrontation, one of the neighborhood kids (played by Leon Reiser — any relation?) gives Rollins the "I'm watching you" evil eye and tries to stare him down. That was genuinely funny, Paul. Why can't more of the show be like that?
I've watched your first four episodes, Paul, and the series will take some time to find its rhythm with the audience. I wish you well, and hope viewers will give you a chance based on their Mad About You memories. From what I've seen so far, though, like Seinfeld, this is a show about nothing in particular — and not in a good way. Paul, may your fans stay mad about you, and not turn mad at you.
Networking: With rising ratings and superior scripts, FX felt, well, Justified in renewing the Elmore Leonard-inspired, marshals-and-mavericks series for a 13-episode third season in 2011-12. The second season finale airs at 10 p.m. May 4. ... After very public and venomous negotiations, Mad Men creator-executive producer Matthew Weiner has reached agreement with AMC and its parent company Lionsgate to continue TV's best drama for at least two more seasons and probably a third. That's the good news. The bad news is, due to the length of the discussions, the show's fifth season won't be seen until sometime in 2012. ... Biggest guessing game in TV Town these days: Is Warner Bros. going to keep CBS's comedy cash cow, Two and a Half Men, in production next season — and, if it does, who's going to replace Detroit's favorite live act, Charlie Sheen? Among the names being bandied about: John Stamos, James Spader, Jay Mohr, David Arquette and Jenny McCarthy. Yeah, you read that right. Wouldn't that take the show in a totally different direction?