[5 February 2009]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
Dave’s World, airing from 1993-1997 on CBS may not have been as big of a hit as some other networks’ sitcoms of the era, and it certainly wasn’t comparable to star Harry Anderson’s previous gig on Night Court, but it did have certain things going for it that a lot of shows, then and now, are sorely lacking.
The show is based on the life and writings of Pulitzer Prize winning columnist and author, Dave Barry. When you have source material of that caliber, it’s hard to go wrong, even when the subject matter is the same basic stuff on which all sitcoms are based: family life. Dave’s World: The Second Season touches on many a familiar plot, from lessons in parenting and sibling rivalry to crazy relatives, needy friends and wacky neighbors. Of course, being based on the humor of Dave Barry, there are a few surprises, as well. I’m willing to bet that the Beaver’s parents never accidentally invested in a pot farm.
Of course, even the best comedy writing is useless in the wrong hands. Fortunately, Dave’s World had Anderson, expertly cast in the title role, and he’s a natural with Barry’s laid back, observational style of humor. Also well cast were DeLane Matthews as Dave’s often put-upon, but equally quick-witted wife, Beth and J.C. Wendel as Mia, Dave’s brilliantly kooky assistant. Shadoe Stevens plays Dave’s friend and editor, the self-obsessed bachelor, Kenny, and Meshach Taylor plays Shel, Dave’s other best friend, who happens to be a somewhat histrionic and recently divorced plastic surgeon.
Rounding out the core cast were Zane Carney as Tommy and Andrew Ducote as Willie, Barry’s two sons. I can’t recall another show that had child actors so suited to both playing their parts and coming across authentically as children. Carney’s ten-year-old Tommy seems an average, believable fifth grader, and Ducote is pitch-expert as six-year-old Willie. It’s refreshing to see these siblings played as ordinary kids rather than as precocious, pre-teen pop stars in training, as young actors—and characters—these days are often portrayed. When these two are in a scene together, they threaten to steal the show.
Dave’s World: The Second Season also has some minor characters and guest spots that steal the scenes in which they appear. Florence Henderson is Beth’s mom, and she plays the mother-daughter relationship, as well as the requisite mother-in-law role, with just the right amount of tension. John Ritter makes a brief appearance as an old college buddy. Patrick Warburton, in a pre-Puddy, recurring role as bumbling handyman and Mia’s dim-bulb boyfriend, Eric, is the perfect foil for Anderson’s educated every-man Barry. Many of the best laughs come from the interaction between these two.
Most of the show is built around simple interactions; the kinds of things that happen in everyone’s daily life that, seen through Barry’s running commentary, are naturally funny. Everyone can relate to being embarrassed by their parents in front of their first crush, or to being those embarrassing parents. Each of us has had the experience of being unable to say no to a friend or family member no matter how crazy we instinctively know their idea is. We have all been the unwitting victim, the hapless observer, at the mercy of the people who come in and out of our lives.
The people that populate Dave’s World are what allows it to be so funny, even 15 years later. Not because they are special, and not because the comedy is hip or high concept, but precisely because they aren’t and it isn’t. Dave is just like the rest of us. He’s a regular guy, with a regular life. He’s just lucky enough to be able to appreciate the joke.