Yes to Yes, Dear
Before I saw the pilot for CBS’s new sitcom, Yes, Dear, I heard vague rumors that it was a bomb just waiting for October to go off. After watching it, I can’t say that I agree.
Yes, Dear is a serviceable sitcom that, like most new shows, teeter-totters between doing things well and doing things badly. Whether it will develop based on its strengths or be dragged down by its weaknesses is dependent on so many factors (the quality of the writing, the inspiration and energy of the acting, the awareness and adroitness of the producers, the influence or non-influence of the network execs) that the eventual quality of the show itself is still in question.
The premise is simple, even thin. Kim and Greg Warner (Jean Louisa Kelly and Anthony Clark) are young, neurotic, do-it-all-perfectly yuppie parents with a one-year-old child. They live near Kim’s sister and her husband, Christina and Jimmy Hughes (Liza Snyder and Mike O’Malley). The gimmick? The Hugheses are working class people whose parenting and lifestyle is in complete opposition to the Warners’. The thinness of the premise is due to the fact that it has only one strong contrast built-in—yuppies vs. common folk, a class-based contrast seen in many, many sitcoms before. But familiarity isn’t necessarily a problem in sitcoms, and the situation here isn’t so banal that it becomes boring, so contrived that it pushes the limits of believability, or so extreme that it becomes total caricature. In other words, the idea can work, even if it isn’t exactly a spectacularly new or exciting concept. But it will only work if there are enough smaller contrasts and conflicts going on beneath the fairly blasé major premise. We need to see major differences between characters, in such areas as their personalities, their emotions, their reactions, their interests, their values. If these differences are creative and intense, there will be plenty to make us wonder, “How will they work these crazy things out?”
Unfortunately, there isn’t quite enough difference between characters to get the show rolling just yet. Kim is high-energy neurotic and Greg is weary of dealing with her, but that’s not a particularly interesting conflict. They need more difference in order to energize their interactions. The lack of striking contrasts puts an awful lot of pressure on the other elements of the show, including the acting. Without a lot of built-in “situation” to rely upon, the actors have to be firing on all cylinders to engage an audience. Although I wouldn’t say they are at that level now, there are signs in the pilot that these actors can get there. Jean Louisa Kelly is likable and lively without slipping over into being shrill or stupid. And in his effort to show how difficult it is being a new father and a husband, Anthony Clark tones down the over-the-top joyfulness that powered his acting on Boston Commons, but he still flashes to life on particular jokes and stronger lines of dialogue.
While Kelly and Clark show signs of bringing life to their roles, the actors playing the working class parents are more problematic. Mike O’Malley steps into a long line of loveable everyday working class “guys,” from Jackie Gleason to John Goodman. The problem with stepping into the guy role is that it’s been done so often and by so many wonderful actors that it’s hard to bring anything new to the endeavor. And O’Malley certainly doesn’t. He’s overly predictable in an overly familiar role, and that’s not particularly interesting to watch. In much the same way as O’Malley, Liza Snyder steps into the recognizable role of the working class mom, inherited from such notables as Roseanne and Brett Butler. And like O’Malley, instead of taking this role and adding a new dimension or twist, Snyder comes across like a bland imitation, adding nothing fresh or vital to the role.
Since the acting doesn’t seem to be fully there just yet, the pressure to help the show find its legs shifts over to the writing. And this may be good news as the pilot contained writing elements that worked very well. The writers managed to get to the truth of their foundational situation, showing real understanding of just how crazed life gets for parents with small children. And not only did they offer verisimilitude, they also had lots of sharp, even witty lines of dialogue that moved the plot while also getting laughs. If there is one shining quality that might give real hope that the show will develop, it’s that the writers have a sense of humor. At least in the pilot.
As I said, it’s always a toss-up whether a show like this will actually survive. But Yes, Dear has the potential to do so, especially if it retains the support of CBS. The show has a built-in appeal to young parents, who, coincidentally, are among those most likely to be home watching tv anyway, and who are sought after by advertisers because when you first have kids your buying habits are in flux. The King of Queens is a good lead-in, Everybody Loves Raymond is a great follow-up: taken together, these shows make for a nice family-themed line-up. While it certainly breaks no new ground, I liked Yes, Dear. Maybe that’s partly because I have a 15-month-old daughter doing exactly the things that are happening on the show, but I also think there are enough good moments this sitcom that it may surprise those critics who have already labeled it a bomb.