For the last few months, I’ve seen ads for the Mad About You revival popping up in my TV Guide feed. This seem like such a weird choice, because it’s not really the sort of show that needs a revival – it was about newlyweds at a very specific time in their lives. To suddenly shift to their golden years almost seems to undermine the premise.
Even stranger is Sony’s choice to release this only for Spectrum cable customers. I don’t know how it works where you live, but every place I’ve ever dwelled, the cable market isn’t really competitive. It’s generally one provider in the area, with the possibility of a satellite company sneaking in and siphoning off a single digit percentage of the residences. The point being, it’s not the competitive field vying for eyeballs that say, the new streaming market is.
Nevertheless, I was curious. I’m the target demographic for this. I was just about old enough when it came out, and I was a fan when it was still on first run, particularly towards the end when it was not only in first run, but also constantly being syndicated. The idea of a show about a newlywed young couple, just a touch older than I was, really appealed to me. These were married folks that didn’t look like my parents, in a genuinely funny presentation. One of the other things I found incredibly appealing was that it explored with the husband and the wife’s foibles equally. There were plenty of episodes where Paul comes off looking ridiculous and bad, and there would be just as many episodes where Jamie looked every bit as foolish. It cuts against the grain of the modern sitcom template where the wife is wise and always correct and the husband is invariably a bumbling fool (I hated Home Improvement for this reason and the Cosby Show had lost it’s luster for me long before any of the accusations started). I like that it explored both characters and presented what was actually a very edifying portrait of marriage.
So how is this new version fair?
It opens with a cute bit where Paul and Jamie discuss running into an old friend they haven’t seen in 20 years and how they changed. It’s clever but I don’t recall this show getting meta like this and it throws me off a bit. God bless Richard Kine for coming back though. He’s great. And Jon Pankow is still as much fun as ever. He’s actually nicer looking as an older man, though I don’t understand what on earth he’s doing as a restaurant owner. What happened to the sporting goods store? I also can’t help but notice Anne Ramsey is listed in the title credits of every episode though she actually only appears in two.
There’s some stuff that’s off though. There are the constant “wink wink” callbacks and ‘memberberries that they keep dropping. Remember Ira’s old flame Mary Ann? Or Fran! You remember Jamie’s best friend Fran! (She and Mark are divorced now and he’s remarried to a sassy new African American stereotype). After a while they start to get annoying. It’s little stuff too. It’s not just that the dog from the original show is dead, it’s the fact that they KEEP MENTIONING IT. I probably wouldn’t have really noticed Murray’s absence if they didn’t keep bringing him up. I’m not a dog person, but even to me this is a drag. Paul’s dad is dead too (Louis Zorich actually did pass last year), and his mom is in a nursing home – looking surprisingly frail. I’m not sure I want to see her like this (perhaps that just hits too close to home for me, with my father spending his last days in a similar facility). Then of course, the whole thing with Richard Kine’s character is strange as well. I realize they couldn’t get Leila Kenzle back as Fran, but that doesn’t make the thing with Mark make. Let’s say your best friend divorces. Do you still hang out with her ex husband and his new wife instead of her (Hang out, she’s even apprenticing under the new wife)?
If we want to nitpick, there’s things like in ep 5, Richard Kine says Paul is well into his seventh decade. In ep 6 Paul’s mom says she’s 85. This math is not adding up.(If she had been a teen mom, it would have been addressed earlier). Also, I’ve been in my house for fourteen years. We’ve not come even close to remolding this place to the degree they have redone that apartment. And why does everything have to be r rated? I really don’t need the S bombs, but I suppose it could be worse
Abby Quinn as the daughter is brilliant. Mable is actually the most interesting part of this series. I’d watch a spin off of just her adventures at college with periodic (and frequent) drop ins by Paul and Jamie. She channels Paul Riser in a lot of her performance and her relationship with Jamie would be perfect if…
Well that’s the problem. Jamie.
Paul Riser has gotten gray and soft and fluffy in his old age. It’s actually something I noticed in the second season of Stranger Things – he’s lost what little edge he had that made him such a great villian in Aliens. But that’s fine. He’s a teddy bear with his very recognizable brand of humor still at the forefront. Helen Hunt’s character on the there hand has gotten harder, with sharp edges. Her character had always been neurotic, even quirky. But it was balanced with a charm, an adorable funny style that just made you love her. I’m a fan of Helen Hunt. I like her outside of this series and followed her into her film career. Heck, I even remember her afterschool specials days. But this incarnation, it’s like they took all of the ugliest aspects of Jamie’s neurosis and amplified them while jettisoning everything that was charming about the character. Her husband is cucked sexually and every word out of her mouth to him seems critical. She gets mad that he smokes an occasional cigar and yet I remember her sneaking cigarettes during the 90’s run. We seem to have tumbled backwards, into that sitcom formula I was so critical of earlier, where the husband is just a bumbling fool and the wife is always right, and her rightness is validated by all around her (Even in episode 4 I believe, where she’s been proven demonstrably wrong, yet the episode closes with Ira speaking the words “She’s always right!”). I got to be honest, I like Jamie less with each episode. She’s turned into a very ugly person.
If we dive deeper into a study of these performances, I almost wonder how much of it is intentional. You could argue that Jamie has settled into the same antagonistic role that her mother filled, except not as passive aggressive as Carol Burnett or Penny Fuller played it. To that end, Paul may well just be settling down into the content and submissive role that Louis Zorich portrayed as his father Burt. We become our parents. It would be accurate. But is it good?
When you end a sitcom, you kind of want to show that the cast is moving on from one time of life to another. You want closure, but you also want to know that they are going to be okay. That things are good. Mad About You actually did a fairly good job of this with their series finale. They still showed struggle and growth, but ultimately we got the end we wanted. As I said at the beginning, this kind of undermines that.
So is it worth seeing? At 25 minuets per episode and only six episodes out (The back half of the 12 episode season will drop in December) you can easily plow through this in less time that it takes to watch a Marvel movie. If you have Spectrum, It may be worth your time over an evening or two, particularly for the delightful Abby Quinn. It’s not worth the trouble of pirating or purchasing though (Maybe if it hits that $5 bin at Wal-Mart). If they are smart, they will eventually add this to the 90’s series syndication package so everyone will have access to it in a few years. I’m curious enough to be willing to binge the last six episodes next month, but can’t see how this gets a second season.