Wednesday, September 27, 2006

TV: Help Me Help You

I suspect ABC didn't do its new sitcom Help Me Help You, which is already saddled with a grating ten-year-old Tom Cruise movie reference for a title, any favors by scheduling its debut after a 90-minute episode of Dancing with the Stars. Since every other program airing opposite it was an hour-long show starting at 9:00, that pretty much guaranteed the only people who were going to tune in to Help Me at 9:30 were the people who had already been watching Dancing since 8:00. (Or those of us TiVoing all the new shows to review on our blogs.) That's poor programming strategy, in my eyes.

Maybe ABC is already writing the show off. I haven't seen much promotion for it. Also, it's not very good. I mean, it's better than any other new sitcom so far this season, but considering the other sitcoms are The Class, 'Til Death, and Happy Hour (which has already been yanked from the schedule by Fox), that's not saying much.

Help Me Help You stars Ted Danson as a therapist who just might have more problems than his patients. CUE THE HILARITY!! Among those attending his group therapy sessions are sitcom veteran Jere Burns, seemingly revisiting the same character and support group situation from Dear John (that was eighteen years ago, folks -- feeling old yet?); Charlie Finn (whom I remember liking from Life on a Stick, which was otherwise horrible) is the most likable of the bunch, despite being suicidal; and... other people whose names I can't be bothered with. Jane Kaczmarek plays Danson's soon-to-be ex-wife, hitting most of the same notes she did on Malcolm in the Middle, and Tom Wilson ("Helloooooo! McFly!!") is her new boyfriend.

The show almost works, despite its tired premise, due to Danson's presence. He's a sitcom king for good reason -- his timing is flawless, his reactions are priceless, and he's got that late-career grouchy, egotistical prick routine of his honed to razor-sharpness. Unfortunately, it's a routine that's a little too familiar, what with Becker still omnipresent in reruns. And the supporting cast (which also includes the Danson character's daughter and her too-old boyfriend) is unwieldy and mostly unappealing on first impression.

Strangely enough, I think a big drawback to the show is its lack of a laugh track. It's a single camera, audience-free show, but it's so traditional in its humor, settings, and presentation that it feels wrong not to hear audience laughter. Maybe I've been over-trained to respond to a laugh track, but I don't think that's quite it; I just think it's overreaching by presenting itself as a hip, non-traditional show. Its lack of awareness as to what level of the sitcom hierarchy it occupies is jarring. This ain't Arrested Development, folks. Hell, it ain't even Malcolm in the Middle.

Still, I found a few laughs peppered throughout, and in a couple of weeks, when Knights of Prosperity debuts as its lead-in at 9:00, I wouldn't be too surprised if I found myself staying tuned for Help Me at 9:30. That's the way you schedule a sitcom, ABC.

Rating: 5 out of 10

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