“Everything you’d think from the commercials and promotional videos about the Paul Reiser Show is true. Curb-lite call it, less taste, less filling. Reiser is still Paul Reiser. He’s lost a step though. It’s not that hard to see why NBC kept this thing on the shelf for so long.”
That was the first paragraph of notes I had upon watching the Paul Reiser Show, before the name Larry David seemed to be the centerpiece of the episode’s plot. But David’s appearance, in an extremely Curb-ian scene taking place in a café — “In the Valley!” — takes Paul Reiser’s newfound meta-factor to the Nth degree, with David literally telling Reiser “do a show like mine.” This was funny, this was fresh, and this is what the show should have been.
But it turns out my initial thoughts were mostly true. From the business-savvy copycat of Jeff Garlin’s Curb character down to the off-beat bossa nova soundtrack, The Reiser Show’s got a hell of a hole to dig itself out of in the coming weeks. Even the greatly underrated Andy Daly can’t save the cookie-cutter motley crew of Reiser’s fellow soccer dads and PTA buddies, however diverse and occasionally funny as they may be (“How is it portable? “Because I’m carrying it.”).
But that’s not to say all was lost. Deep down, gimmick cameos aside, Reiser may have something here. It’s hard to believe the show is as autobiographical as it’s pay-cable-forefather, but why WOULDN’T Reiser host a game show? Mad About You was, in 2011 time, a hundred years ago. The man could need a job. Look at Howie Mandel’s second (third?) act as the fist-bumpin’ king of family television. Reiser’s brief stint as the host of “Start Thinkin’,” which alone is a failed parody, just proves what he’s good at: being himself. The New York Jew who finds the absurdity in everyday situations. Ringing any bells?
Influence aside, the biggest problem that the Paul Reiser Show has to overcome is its timeslot, primely placed between youth-favorites Community and The Office, nevertheless the juggernauts of 30 Rock and Parks and Rec (which in its own right had another amazingly strong night) on the same night. Most twentysomethings who tune into Michael Scott every week have no idea who Paul and Jaime Buchman were.
It’s a 90s sitcom shot in the newly adopted NBC single-camera format, and while at it’s core it could be funny, episode one leaves a lot to be desired. The reason Curb works so well, besides Larry David, is because it doesn’t feel acted, partially because it sort of isn’t. The awkwardness of Curb is achieved through real confrontation, not sitcom standards like a guy glued to something, or dads competing through their kids. David uses no scripts, whereas in an A.V. Club interview, Reiser admits his show is “very scripted,” and it unfortunately feels more like a stage read than a fleshed-out production.
I wanted to love this show. I really, really did. The comedy diet of my youth definitely consisted of a healthy portion of Reiser’s 20th century hit, but just like I’ve aged and Paul’s aged, television’s aged. We expect a higher standard as the form has consistently redefined itself. A standard that doesn’t come with Mark Burnett explaining the joke: “your squirming is the funny part!” Yeah Survivorman, we get it.
Steve Ciccarelli watched Mad About You after little league games while consuming large quantities of Big League Chew. Not much has changed.