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October 8, 2015

Comedy the Old-Fashioned Way: 'Hot in Cleveland,' 'Retired at 35' and 'Perfect Couples'

by Maureen Ryan, posted Jan 19th 2011 2:20PM
Sometimes it's hard to understand why a particular show is successful. That's not true in the case of 'Hot in Cleveland' (10PM ET Wednesday, TV Land).

There isn't anything edgy or innovative about 'Hot,' which exists to give the people what they want, which is Betty White saying naughty things and the rest of the cast delivering mainstream comedy aimed directly at Middle America.

And you know what? It works. I'm from Middle America and I laughed more than once at 'Hot in Cleveland.' The comedy is not what you'd call inspired, but it's less brassy and brittle than it was when it first arrived, and the show's cast knows exactly how to play this kind of cheerfully one-dimensional material.

'Hot in Cleveland,' which has a rather stiff cameo from Mary Tyler Moore in the first episode of the new season, has wisely expanded its world a bit. These days, the ladies who moved to Cleveland from Los Angeles because men in the Midwest found them scintillating have some male company. Valerie Bertinelli's Melanie has a cop boyfriend, and Jane Leeves' character, Joy, suffers the attentions of a love-struck acquaintance, who is well played by 'Seinfeld's' Wayne Knight.

The character who should, on paper, be least likable is Wendie Malick's self-absorbed soap star, Victoria, but Malick has such a deft way with line delivery that Victoria's selfishness ends up being entertaining.

Nothing about 'Hot in Cleveland' is subtle; White steals scenes and mugs for the camera, which is obviously what the producers want her to do. But even though the loud laugh track can be annoying at times, there's no denying that the cast of this endearingly retro sitcom makes the most of what they've been given.

The same can't be said for 'Retired at 35' (10:30PM ET Wednesday, TV Land), which also has some older actors, Jessica Walter and George Segal, extracting the maximum comedy from a very predictable setup. Every joke is obvious -- the old folks refer to things like "Facialbook" -- and there are lots of creaky punchlines about age, sex and retirement living.

On 'Hot in Cleveland,' every member of the cast pulls her own weight, but 'Retired' gives the showiest material to Walter and Segal, and as a result, Jonathan McClain, who plays an overworked son visiting his retired parents, barely registers at all. I can't see this comedy having long-term appeal, given the thinness of the premise and the boring character at its center.

But to change the subject to new ventures, NBC is rolling out a three-hour comedy block at 8PM ET on Thursday; it's made up of 'Community,' 'Perfect Couples,' 'The Office,' 'Parks and Recreation,' '30 Rock' and 'Outsourced.'

I guess we should feel fortunate that 66 percent of those comedies are actually watchable (if not very good).

'Perfect Couples,' on the other hand, is one of those spackle shows -- it exists to fill a gap in NBC's schedule. If anyone can supply a better and/or credible reason as to why this show or 'Outsourced' exists, I'd love to hear it.

Just as 'Outsourced' is full of mildly offensive stereotypes about Indian people, 'Perfect Couples' is full of mostly stupid stereotypes about American yuppies (men like beer and sex, women like nagging and shopping. Hahahahaha!). The comedy stars six appealing actors, including Kyle Bornheimer and Olivia Munn, and but 'Perfect Couples' is so screechy, predictable and lame that I kind of despised these characters within minutes of being introduced to them.

Hasn't NBC learned anything? If you're going to do very obvious comedy, stick Betty White in there somewhere. It's funnier that way.

Follow @MoRyan on Twitter.

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Agree with you except about Outsourced. I don't find it stereotypical about Indians, but about office "types"--the pretty, smart girl; the shy girl; the tubby socially maladjusted boy; the cool boy, etc. That's what makes it funny, & it's a kind funny not a mean funny, so I wish more people would give it chance.

January 19 2011 at 3:42 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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