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Watching Ellie

Director: Brad Hall, Matt Nodella, Andrew Gottlieb, Jack Burditt, Julia Louis-Dreyfus
Creator: Julia Louis-Dreyfus
Cast: Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Lauren Bowles, Darren Boyd, Peter Stormare, Don Lake, Steve Correll
Regular airtime: Tuesdays, 8:30pm

(NBC)

Totally True

10 pm (60:00)
You know what’s awesome? The “Jerkstore” episode of Seinfeld. Remember? George gets rocked in some verbal pisspossery by some dude he works with, so he flies across the country to double stuff the guy, two times.


George: “The jerkstore called, and they’re out of you!”
Guy: “Oh yeah? Well, you’re their best seller.”


Dude’s drinking some potent Haterade, some stupid funny potent Haterade! Seinfeld is toot sweet.


10:21 pm (39:00)
Anyway, my brother Daniel always says “jerkstore.” And he always says, “toot sweet.” That kid’s the best. He’s a linguistic genius, an unparalleled visionary in the field of phraseology. Ask any of my friends: it’s totally true. He’s always coming up with these terms that instantly become part of our communal lexicon, turning 22-to-27-year-olds into the most excited group of 4th grade field trippers this side of The Goonies.


It’s all uncharted territory, all the time. Can’t miss stuff:


“Dan, do you want a beer?”
“Nah, I’m chief.” (Whoa.)
“Dan, how’d the prom go?”
“Nah, dude.”
“Why? What happened with that girl?”
“Nothing, dude. I got no burn.”
“Burn? Wha… ohhh. Burn.” (Sick.)


But the best gift he’s given me has to be “knife.” Used in the place of “nice,” with a healthy dose of sarcastic “Yeah, huh?” thrown in, it’s pretty damn unstoppable. Like this: “Knife Solo, Mario Van Peebles.”


Or: “Knife ‘minstrel of melancholia,’ Reuters reporter writing about Kurt Cobain.”


Or: “Knife Watching Ellie, jerkstores.”


10:33 pm (27:00)
Of course, he’s a bit more cynical than I am. The show’s not all that bad.


Still, at first contact, I was all, “What the f?” We got a clock counting down in real time, like 24 without the government conspiracy thing and that dude from Truth or Consequences, N.M.


We got no laugh track. We got a topless, amped-up Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Ellie, like Elaine, but different) crying at her reflection in a mirror, then the screen splits so we can see both Ellie and her blonder, younger sister (Lauren Bowles) while they pick apart her string of failed relationships (“Allie McKnife”), then an overflowing toilet, the tall Nihilist from The Big Lebowski (Peter Stormare) trying to stop the flood, then trying to catch some naked back while Ellie changes into her little red dress—ooh, then smacking his head on the bathroom floor, snap! Better call the doctor from down the hall (Don Lake)—but whoops, he’s NAKED, and he’s only a vet! Fucking real-time hijinx, man!


Plus, she’s still gotta get to work, and she’s crazy late.


Freeze frame. Commercial. Stop the clock. I put soup in my microwave and reflect.


Okay, for starters: this is a lot better than The Michael Richards Show. And it’s definitely better than Bob Patterson. Louis-Dreyfus has a knack for physical comedy that went under-appreciated next to Kramer’s crazy legs pratfalls, and she’s always been great at blowing her top in the face of bruising stress. So the frantic pace suits her quite well, as do the zany, vaguely smitten men we’re introduced to early on.


But the clock thing: it’s super gimmicky. And it’s always a bad idea to build anything that you envision having staying power on something as tenuous as a gimmick. It’s just weak. Really.


10:46 pm (14:00)
I’ll definitely tell you what’s not weak: Chunky Vegetable Soup. It’s like eating a piece of Olympus.


And now that I’m used to the neck-snappin’, speed-skatin’ lifestyle this Ellie leads, I’m looking to wash up in Lake Guffaw, to take a dive into the deep end of the Funny Pool. I am, in the immortal words of Homer Simpson’s behind, “Ready to laugh.”


Thank you, Jebus. I knew my life was changing when Steve Correll (yes, The Daily Show‘s Steve Correll) showed up as Ellie’s ex-boyfriend, chasing her down the street with a head full of that tinfoil stylists use to “frost highlights” into your hair. (Oh yeah, she wound up leaving the vet and the Nihilist in the bathroom with the toilet water because she had to get to work.)


That guy’s goddamn awesome. “Even Steven,” with him and Stephen Colbert, is Jesus & Mary Chain maximum hilarity. He was knife here, too (you can use “knife” to mean “awesome” too; Dan just called and I asked him), uninviting Ellie to his birthday party and then misreading her disgust as a thinly veiled attempt to re-stoke the ol’ passion flame. Top shelf.


But once we get to the club, it’s all Deuce Bigelow, Male Sleepalo. Boring nation! We meet blonde British boyfriend jazz guitarist Ben (Darren Boyd), there’s a defanged Sex in the City fellatio reference, a quick fight, and then Ellie busts out on stage, cuz work for this lady is singin’ in lounges! And sing Ms. Louis-Dreyfus does, quite nicely, in fact, a breezy number about “wookin pa nub” that gets the ax in mid-lyric because the clock… has… stopped.


10:59 pm (01:00)
Hmm. HBO-Lite network fare with a risky premise and a star whose previous show redefined television and still regularly outperforms most episodes of new sitcoms with its syndicated reruns? I dunno, Seinfeld wasn’t supposed to work either. And while Watching Ellie isn’t anywhere near as brilliant or as funny, it is pretty competent for a start-up, and it’s probably just different enough to turn some heads without coming off as forced, at least for as long as the gimmick can stay fresh.


Or something like that. I’m kind of losing focus, Seinfeld‘s on. I gotta go. Knife ending, me.

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