Thursday, September 20, 2007

Fall 2007 TV: Back To You

Back To You (Fox)

Hoo boy. This was even worse than I imagined. And I was imagining pretty damn bad.

Kelsey Grammer plays a news anchor in L.A. whose accidental, profanity-laced on-air tirade gets him fired. He winds up back at the Pittsburgh station he'd left ten years before. It took me a while to catch on that it was only ten years ago: the show begins in a flashback to his last newscast in Pittsburgh, but I missed, like, the first two seconds of the show, in which they must've established the date. And in the flashback, everybody's wardrobe, as well as the news desk set, all indicate "1970s," not "late '90s." Hmm, a '70s look and accidental on-air profanity that leads to a firing. I have to imagine the show's creators wrote the pilot episode immediately after watching Anchorman. Maybe during.

Anywho. In Pittsburgh, Grammer is reunited with his former co-anchor, Patricia Heaton, still at the same job. Several of his other co-workers are also still there, including Fred Willard (who was actually in Anchorman) and Ty Burrell (who was pretty good in Dawn of the Dead and incredibly horrible in every other thing I've ever seen him in, including this), along with new faces, such as a Latina caricature and a fat nerd caricature who don't deserve to be mentioned by name.

Turns out, Grammer slept with Heaton the night he left Pittsburgh. Also turns out, she's got a ten-year-old daughter, of which Grammer is the father. Oh, joy, a child actress is going to be integral to this already criminally wasted (Willard) or untalented (everybody else) supporting cast. In all fairness, the child actress is actually better than everyone but Willard, Grammer, and Heaton.

Yes, Grammer and Heaton are decent enough. They have a tremendous amount of talent between them. But they're given nothing to do with that talent. They trade weak barbs, they make stupid innuendos. Grammer leers at younger women. Meanwhile, the fat nerd stammers and sweats, and the Latina acts like a whore. The humor level on this show is next to non-existent. Everybody keeps calling this a throwback to traditional sitcoms, but that's an insult to the great traditional sitcoms like Cheers, Barney Miller, Taxi, and Back To You's obvious predecessor, The Mary Tyler Moore Show. No, this is a throwback to bad traditional sitcoms. Fox desperately wants you to believe this is the new Frasier, or Everybody Loves Raymond, when it's really the new Single Guy.

Or perhaps even more accurately: it's the new Just Shoot Me, which was also created by Back To You's Steven Levitan. Like Just Shoot Me, it's an office sitcom packed with thinly-sketched stereotypes. And it also subscribes to the same drive-by school of hack comedy. Which is: two characters are having a conversation, one of whom makes an incredibly leading comment; a third character then swiftly enters from someplace offscreen, from which he couldn't have possibly heard the prior comment, nonetheless makes a bitchy and obvious one-line retort to the comment (disparaging the commenter's virtue, if the commenter is female, or the commenter's manhood, if male), and disappears offscreen, never breaking stride. The drive-by! That happens about half a dozen times in Back To You's pilot.

Unlike Just Shoot Me, however, Back To You will never last seven seasons. It'll be lucky to survive this one. Though, considering Fox renewed 'Til Death, which is now only the second worst sitcom on the network, and considering the vast amounts of money Fox must've pumped into this show, including the ubiquitous promos and the two leads' salaries, maybe Back To You will have some staying power after all, if only out of sheer stubbornness.

Rating: 3 out of 10 (based on the grading system I established at the conclusion of my Fall 2005 TV reviews)

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