There’s life in sit­coms be­yond ‘Se­in­feld,’ ‘Friends’

The Korea Times - - ENTERTAINM­ENT - By Robert Lloyd

Much is made of tele­vi­sion as a sto­ry­telling medium, but re­ally we watch it for the peo­ple — the char­ac­ters and the ac­tors who play them. (In­deed, we’re apt to take a char­ac­ter’s side, and an ac­tor’s, when we feel the writ­ers have wronged them, or did you sleep through the last sea­son of “Game of Thrones”?)

Com­edy, es­pe­cially — episodic, net­work-style com­edy, es­pe­cially — is a mat­ter of per­son­al­i­ties rather than of premises.

Premises are like the first stages of a rocket: They get the pay­load into or­bit, where char­ac­ters will come into their un­pre­dictable own over time, in­di­vid­u­als in­di­vis­i­ble from the peo­ple play­ing them, rather than just serv­ing what­ever pitch sold the show in the first place.

CBS has two new come­dies pre­mier­ing. Both are good.

But the most im­por­tant thing there is to say about “Carol’s Sec­ond Act” is that it stars Pa­tri­cia Heaton, late of “The Mid­dle,” in a role that takes the en­ergy of her char­ac­ter there and shapes it into some­thing dif­fer­ent and fresh. And the main thing to know about “The Uni­corn” is that it brings Wal­ton Gog­gins, from “Jus­ti­fied,” “Vice Prin­ci­pals” and “The Right­eous Gem­stones,” to net­work tele­vi­sion and casts him as some­thing rare for him, a nor­mal, nice guy.

Whether or not the script pre­ceded the cast­ing, or was writ­ten to fit her, “Carol” is def­i­nitely “Pa­tri­cia Heaton’s new show.” (Cre­ators Emily Halpern and Sarah Hask­ins cre­ated the un­der­ap­pre­ci­ated “Tro­phy Wife” a few cy­cles back.)

If you aren’t ready to turn up your nose at any multi-cam­era com­edy cre­ated in this cen­tury — and re­ally, kids, there is life in that form be­yond “Friends” and “Se­in­feld” — you’ll find a fine ad­di­tion to the canon: a con­ven­tional, sat­is­fy­ing sit­com that breaks ab­so­lutely no new ground even as it sets off its star to good ad­van­tage. (You can’t have all the ground be bro­ken ground.)

Heaton’s tele­vi­sion ca­reer is de­fined pri­mar­ily by two long-run­ning series: the multi-cam­era “Ev­ery­body Loves Ray­mond,” where she was the sen­si­ble (yet spiky) coun­ter­weight to her ec­cen­tric in-laws, and the sin­gle-cam­era “The Mid­dle,” which ended a nine-year run in 2018, where she played the hap­less, crafty, dis­tracted, dis­mis­sive, en­er­getic, lazy and ul­ti­mately lov­ing mother of a lower-mid­dle-class In­di­ana family. (I never missed an episode of that show.) Fans of those char­ac­ters will find bits of them in her new one.

The sit­u­a­tion in the com­edy is that Carol (Heaton), a re­tired school­teacher, has gone to med­i­cal school af­ter her hus­band left her, sac­ri­fic­ing her re­tire­ment to a sec­ond ca­reer. “Now he’s sleep­ing on his sis­ter’s fu­ton and I’m a doc­tor,” she says, “so life is good.” We meet her on her first day of res­i­dency, at least twice the age of her fel­low in­terns, a joke re­peated with fair reg­u­lar­ity. (Kyle MacLach­lan, as the head of surgery, is the other not-young per­son in the cast.) The show touches on the tropes of med­i­cal dra­mas — res­i­dents com­pet­ing for pa­tients, mis­di­ag­noses re-di­ag­nosed, even the ne­ces­sity of de­liv­er­ing bad news — and wants you to have a feel­ing or two about them. But it’s paced for laughs.

Like “The Mid­dle’s” Frankie Heck, Carol is a chat­ter­box, es­sen­tially op­ti­mistic and cheer­ful, and not par­tic­u­larly in­ter­ested in fol­low­ing the rules. When Carol tells a pa­tient whose gur­ney she has dif­fi­culty ma­neu­ver­ing, “I had an Oldsmo­bile like this once. Took out a mail­box and a small family … of gnomes! Gar­den gnomes — I should lead with that,” it’s a line that could have come right out of “The Mid­dle.” She’s more em­pa­thetic, less self­ish and less feral than Frankie, on the one hand in­ex­pe­ri­enced (and hun­gry for this new ex­pe­ri­ence), and on the other a per­son who can wield ma­ter­nal au­thor­ity. “I feel ashamed,” says one of her young col­leagues, hav­ing been dressed down by Carol, “but also mo­ti­vated.”

Gog­gins is best known for play­ing Ti­mothy Olyphant’s neme­sis Boyd Crow­der in six sea­sons of “Jus­ti­fied,” Danny McBride’s quasi-neme­ses in “Vice Prin­ci­pals” and “The Right­eous Gem­stones” and, go­ing back awhile, a toxic cop on “The Shield.” (He’s been in a cou­ple of ac­tion shows, as well — the mil­i­tary “The Six,” on His­tory Chan­nel, and the Bri­tish spy series “Deep State,” which showed here on Epix this year.)

What he has never played is an or­di­nary per­son with or­di­nary friends and family, and while that might not sound ex­cit­ing, it’s re­fresh­ing to see, as if the ac­tor had sur­vived a long, dark night with a new lease on life.

Not that Wade, the char­ac­ter he plays here, is a model of equa­nim­ity. He’s at a kind of psy­cho­log­i­cal junc­ture, un­fin­ished to a point that makes him seem child­like at times. When we meet him, he’s still de­frost­ing meals brought to him in sym­pa­thy af­ter his wife died; there are dogs ly­ing on his kitchen coun­ters. (Why a dog would want to do this, I don’t know, but it looks good). He also has two daugh­ters (Ruby Jay and Maken­zie Moss, ex­cel­lent in well-writ­ten roles) liv­ing in a state of com­fort­able, lazily an­tag­o­nis­tic anar­chy.

(Los Angeles Times/Tri­bune News)

Tri­bune News

From left, Carol Mansell as Mrs. Zahn and Pa­tri­cia Heaton as Carol Kennedy in the CBS series, “Carol’s Sec­ond Act.”

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