Give Me a Break
“Think you’re having a bad week? It’s nothing compared to Sam’s week.” So says the promo for CBS’ new sitcom, Worst Week. “Worst” and “bad” are, of course, subjective terms. Those injured in Iraq or trying to rebuild their lives in the aftermath of Hurricane Ike are undoubtedly having worse weeks than Sam (Kyle Bornheimer), but it’s safe to say that he is not having a good week.
Still, it’s hard to feel sympathy for Sam, as much of the calamity that befalls him is of his own making. At least this is the problem introduced after the series pilot sets up Sam as well-organized and efficient: he enjoys a management position at work, is newly engaged, and has just found out that he is going to be a father. Life seems good, until it’s time to visit his fiancée Mel’s (Erinn Hayes) parents, Angela (Nancy Lenehan) and Dick (Kurtwood Smith, reprising the gruff dad he played on That ‘70s Show).
Something about his soon-to-be in-laws so unnerves Sam that he turns into a blithering idiot with two left feet and no opposable thumbs. Viewers learn that this anxiety first manifested itself on Sam’s last visit with them, when he managed to flood their house. Perhaps its Dick’s steely stares or Angela’s befuddled glances, or maybe it’s just Sam’s desire to make Mel happy by impressing her parents. Possibly, it’s the fact that after he’s dated their daughter for three years, the Claytons still refer to Sam as Mel’s “friend.” Whatever the cause, even Sam begins to wonder, “What happens to me when I get around these people?”
In the series premiere, Sam—in rapid succession—misses Dick’s birthday dinner, gets vomited on by a co-worker, sticks the Claytons with an $80 cab fare, urinates on Angela’s thawing chicken, mistakenly reports to Mel and Angela that Dick is dead, wrecks the Claytons’ car, and ruins Angela’s birthday present to her husband. No surprises are spoiled in this detailing, since it’s immediately a given that Sam will mishandle every situation. As soon Angela shows Mel and Sam the portrait of Dick that Angela has commissioned, mentioning the stature of the artist and the year that the picture took to complete, viewers know to start counting the minutes until Sam somehow destroys the painting.
In fact, so much goes wrong for Sam that it begs the question as to where the series is heading. Will it be week after week of Sam making an ass of himself and further alienating the Claytons? It’s hard to imagine that the series could maintain this pace without making Sam look like a total loser and Mel an imbecile for staying with him. Alternatively, if the series refocuses on what Sam has to do to build a positive relationship with them, then what? He’ll have less bad weeks? Perhaps the show will mix the two approaches, with Sam gaining a little ground with the Claytons, only to lose it with another self-made disaster. In any of these cases, the potential repetition already looks excruciating.
That the pilot fails to provide a foundation for the show’s future direction does not bode well. The only thing that is clear is how much the Claytons dislike Sam. The antagonistic relationship between parents and their child’s significant other is nothing new (think: Endora and Darren Stevens, Archie Bunker and Mike Stivic, Marie and Debra Barone). However, such relationships usually are one aspect of a larger family dynamic. In Worst Week‘s first episode, the antagonism is the sole focus for humor, like Meet the Fockers on an endless loop. And yet—as the frequency of Sam’s mishaps increases, one can’t help but laugh at his “give me a break” reactions. Bornheimer’s winning performance is equal parts boyish charm and clumsy frustration.
By giving the series a prime spot in its Monday night comedy line-up, CBS is showing faith. The show will most likely premiere well, following the ratings hit Two and a Half Men, but the premiere episode offers viewers few reasons to return. After all, how many worst weeks can one man have?