[23 June 2008]
Meet P.J., the tomboy version of Carrie Bradshaw. She’s blonde, she’s pretty and she provides extraneous expository narration while typing on her laptop.
A sportswriter for the Chicago Sun-Times, P.J. likes poker and softball and is immune to the lure of a cute top. Except for one gal pal, all of her friends are men.
In the world of My Boys, there are two kinds of women – P.J. and Not P.J. P.J. drinks beer and eats pizza until the cows come home and never gains an ounce. Guys love her because she likes everything they like and comes with a minimum of drama.
Every female who is not P.J. is a guy’s worst nightmare. They’re flighty or loopy or needy or hell-bent on removing said guy from his big city, ESPN-filled, deep-fried or beer-battered comfort zone.
My Boys isn’t the first sitcom to trade in broadly-sketched versions of actual human beings; every sitcom (heck, every television show or movie) does to some extent. But the characters, male and female, are cliché at its most glaring.
The complete lack of nuance makes it all the more surprising that My Boys manages to be greater than the sum of its parts. The show isn’t ground-breaking television by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s breezy and pleasant.
A lot of the credit is due to Jordana Spiro, who plays P.J. with a loose-limbed awkwardness that, along with her big, bawdy voice, belies her Barbie-doll looks. Thanks to Spiro, the character’s tomboy enthusiasms come across as genuine.
One of the only revelations from the DVD extras is that creator Betsy Thomas looks – and sounds – a lot like Spiro. Thomas based P.J. on herself, weekly poker games and all. Thomas describes the series as the “anti” Sex and the City, which is odd because the two aren’t all that different. The characters are (mostly) different genders and no one is wearing Manolos but the focus is the same: relationships and what it means to be a single professional in the 21st Century.
The rest of the extras might have been more interesting if they dealt with those issues rather than subjecting viewers to two plodding featurettes of the cast trying to answer sports trivia and questions about their own sports likes and dislikes. These people are all comedians (some of them are stand-up comedians) but their replies generate no laughs.
P.J.’s stable of non-boyfriends includes older brother Andy (Jim Gaffigan), a Stepford Husband. Newcomer and fellow sportswriter Bobby (Kyle Newman) is a potential love interest. Male best friend Brendan (Reid Scott) is a “hard rock” DJ with girlfriend drama. The interchangeable Mike (Jamie Kaler) and Kenny (Michael Bunin) are present also.
The boys are kind of like a Greek chorus. They’ve got more personality as a group than they do apart. The other main character, female best friend Stephanie (Kellee Stewart), suffers from the fact that she’s only around to provide the constant example of the Not P.J. woman.
My Boys other metaphorical foul ball is the voiceover narration. If you think that last sentence made clunky use of sports terminology, then P.J.’s relentless comparisons of life to baseball will become absolutely grating very quickly. Clearly the creators don’t get it, because there is an entire, cringe-worthy DVD feature devoted to these moments.
The narration is too wordy to match the relatively simple stories being told. The plots all boil down to this: P.J. is single. She wants to meet a guy, so she goes out on dates. What does it all mean for her place as “one of the guys”? Even a rookie from the minor leagues can figure that out without help. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)
After the exposition has been dispensed with, however, My Boys settles into a nice rhythm. The plots aren’t outstanding, but the episodes move along at a good clip. There are few cliffhangers, but no nonsensical curveballs (Arrgh, I’m doing it again.)
On the other hand, it would be nice to see more scenes of P.J. at work covering games for her newspaper. Early on, she cautions Bobby not to act on their burgeoning attraction while they’re at the office (which, in this case, is Wrigley Field.) She later explains that flirting could lead to her losing hard-won respect from male competitors.
My Boys is a comedy and it wouldn’t make sense for the show to become an essay on the perils of the glass ceiling. But there’s no reason to pretend that P.J. has won all the battles that would presumably come with her chosen profession. There’s also no reason to ignore the Not P.J. sides of P.J. – that is, aspects of her personality that might put her at odds with the dynamic of the boys.