Run of the Mill
David Trainer has been honing his bad-sitcom directing skills since the late-‘80s when he began his career with Designing Women. Today he brings us the epitome of the run-of-the-mill half-hour comedy: the WB’s Run of the House. This drab new show presents three siblings, Kurt (Joey… oops… Joseph Lawrence), Sally (Sasha Barrese), and Chris (Kyle Howard), left to care for their 15-year-old sister Brooke (Margo Harshman of Even Stevens) when their parents are forced to move to a more temperate climate due to the father’s health.
This premise puts three 20somethings in charge of a teenager without burdening any of them with the very unsitcom-like strain of being newly orphaned. Judging from the first episode, Run of the House steers clear of anything that’s unsitcom-like.
The characters are cardboard as can be: the eldest, most responsible Franklin child, Kurt, runs “the store” for his ailing father. He shows his little siblings who’s boss by fuming that he’s the one in charge. Sally, the glamorous, self-centered, semi-slutty sister, offers the female perspective by pointing out to her brothers that what’s important is understanding where Brooke is “emotionally” (the boys shrug and shake their heads in bewilderment; they’re not sure what “emotionally” means). Chris, the fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants screwball, unexpectedly returns home after dropping out of law school and accompanies nearly every line with an exaggerated shrug and a goofy smile. And Brooke, baby and burden, alternately longs to be accepted as one of the big kids or storms out of the room shouting, “I hate this family!”
Plainly, they’re not Party of Five‘s Salingers. They’re not wounded or poor, pulling together to survive. Instead, they’re of their moment, young adults who, unable to take the world by storm, have returned to their family home. Depictions of this so-called “boomerang generation” are increasingly prevalent on television. (One TV critic included Run of the House with the slew of new fall series with adult children living with their parents: NBC’s The Happy Family, ABC’s It’s All Relative and Married to the Kellys, and the WB’s All About the Andersons. But Run of the House isn’t quite the same. Kurt, Sally, and Chris aren’t seeking their parents’ protection; they’re replacing them.
They also aren’t back home because they couldn’t cut it in the real world; they’re nobly checking their youthful freedom by accepting “responsibility.” Whereas once upon a time, people in their 20s built a career and “made something of themselves,” now more are spending that decade figuring out what they want to do. By taking in their teenaged sister, the elder Franklins have skipped over this luxurious and tumultuous time of soul-searching and become instantly settled.
Kurt, Chris, and Sally also contend with the challenge of living as adults amongst their siblings. An especially troublesome symptom of the boomerang generation is a protracted adolescence. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to behave like a grown-up while living in the same house where you were potty-trained, wore footed-pajamas, and dumped your Spaghetti-Os on the floor. As a result, the Franklins live in limbo: are the older ones parents to the younger or are they a bunch of kids stoked to be set loose from their parents? If the first episode is any indication, they’re going to be both.
Despite its occasional quirkiness, Run of the House is so inundated with clichés that it’s hard to differentiate it from every sitcom you’ve seen since childhood. The girls especially appear doomed to formula. When Brooke runs into her crush, Scott (Jake McDorman), at O’Rourke’s (the requisite family hang-out), she indicates her attraction to him by feigning extreme casualness, ensuring that everyone within a 10-mile radius knows she likes him. Following Sally’s example, Brooke learns to cry to get her way. And when Kurt walks in on Sally kissing her date (Grant Thompson), she keeps her brother from further embarrassing her by clamping her hands over the date’s ears, wrenching his head to the side, and stage whispering to Kurt that her date is “a really successful doctor with a nice car!”
Is Run of the House worse than any other sitcom? Not at all. Is it painful to watch? Not particularly. Its only crime is that it begins its season on such a resoundingly dull note. The crisis of this episode is that Brooke experiences her first kiss with hunky Scott. This assembly of characters should be able to stir up more of a mess. There’s no point to watching this show if we know so early that they can handle living on their own with so little trauma.