Reviews

10 Items or Less: Seasons 1 & 2

Andrew Winistorfer

A competent comedy that probably wouldn't exist if it wasn’t on TBS.


10 Items or Less

Distributor: Sony
Cast: John Lehr, Bob Clendenin, Greg Davis Jr., Chris Payne Gilbert, Kristen Gronfield, Christopher Liam Moore, Roberta Valderrama, Jennifer Elise Cox
MPAA rating: N/A
Network: TBS
First date: 2006
US Release Date: 2008-12-27
Amazon

What if classic, canceled before their time shows like Arrested Development, Freaks And Geeks, Undeclared, and (probably) Friday Night Lights were on TBS? Would they be promoted like crazy during the World Series like Frank TV? Probably not, but at least they’d be able to eke out a few seasons of existence while keeping a low profile and posting minuscule ratings and continue like those things don’t really matter, like 10 Items or Less.

10 Items or Less, released recently as a two-disc, two-season set (with barely any extras to speak of), is most often called a “rip-off” of The Office set inside a grocery store (which actually means it’s a “rip-off” of The Office starring Steve Carell, which itself is a “rip-off” (or re-interpretation) of the The Office starring Ricky Gervais). And to wit, there is a certain amount of Steve Carell’s Michael Scott in Leslie Pool, manager of the Greens & Grains (played by John Lehr), and both shows get by on the zaniness of the supporting cast.

But 10 Items or Less is an imperfect mixture of two other comedy shows in addition to The Office -- Curb Your Enthusiasm (90 percent of 10 Items or Less is improv) and Arrested Development (for the fact that Pool faces taking over a business that his dad once did a better/worse job of running, and for the documentary feel).

10 Items or Less follows the exploits of Pool as he takes over for his deceased father at the family-owned grocery store, Greens & Grains. Pool immediately finds he is in charge of a store staffed with barely competent employees—the janitor/stock boy/jack of no trades Carl (played by the Lurch-like Bon Clendenin), the man-whore butcher Todd (Chris Payne Gilbert), the mousy, spineless customer service girl Ingrid (Kristin Gronfield), the sassy Latina produce manager Yolanda (Roberta Valderrama), and the bagger/cashier duo of night student Buck and Ice Capades-loving Richard (Greg Davis Jr. and Christopher Liam Moore).

If that’s not enough pressure, Pool also has to fight off the manager of the local superstore, SuperValueMart, Amy Anderson (played by Jennifer Elise Cox) whom he had a tremendous crush on in high school. Amy wants to buy Greens & Grains from Pool, and he’s having trouble saying no—for reasons financial and personal.

Most of the laughs come from the randomness of the show’s supporting cast. Clendenin’s Bob is like The Office’s Dwight if he had no hair, no discernible skills, and talked like he was in danger of running out of oxygen if he says too much. The first season’s funniest plotline revolves around Carl coming to terms with being a father after he finds out (five years after the fact) that he has a kid with Yolanda after sleeping with her once. Carl tries to show Yolanda he really wants to know his son, but his efforts are mostly disasters—he misspells his son’s name (Manuelito) when he gets it tattooed on his chest.

Most episodes of 10 Items or Less have a general plot (like they’ve challenged SuperValueMart to a bagging contest, Pool holds a reality contest to see who gets fired so the other employees get health insurance, the disastrous decision to have a money booth in the front of the store as a promotion), but then the stories are filled in with improv from the actors.

Sometimes this pays great dividends, but most of the time, you can see the actors literally thinking up the lines as they go along. It gives the show a somewhat more realistic feel than if it was paced and scripted like a normal sitcom, but the scenarios and things said by the employees remove the show from a reality it should/could be grounded in.

The underlying problem with 10 Items or Less is the fact that none of it seems even remotely “real” in the way that The Office does. The Office gives us characters like Jim, Pam, Stanley, and Oscar, all people who could exist in an office setting. When Carell’s Michael Scott screws up, he has to answer to executives who are serious, and think he’s a joke.

But in 10 Items or Less, none of the characters ever have to atone for their actions. Pool can’t seem to get anyone to come to their store, and his promotions range from the incredibly sad to the incredibly terrible. At some point, he’d have to either close up shop, or bail on the promotions to save cash, but he never does in these 13 episodes. He just keeps floating by on a prayer and despite all odds.

Same goes for the employees, who spend work shifts talking about the Ice Capades, making out with employees from their store and their competitors, and generally doing nothing that could earn an honest wage. It makes for decent comedy, but it also makes for moments where you’re yelling at your TV: “That could never happen! What store would have a shopping cart joust in the meat department?”

That’s not saying 10 Items or Less doesn’t have a decent amount of laughs, or isn’t worth your time. It’s just not going to make you throw out your Arrested Development DVDs, erase your Office episodes off your iPod, or cancel your HBO subscription. It’s merely a competent comedy that wouldn’t probably exist if it wasn’t on TBS.

6

Music

Books

Film

Recent
Film

Exploitation Shenanigans 'Test Tube Babies' and 'Guilty Parents' Contend with the Aftermath

As with so many of these movies about daughters who go astray, Test Tube Babies blames the uptight mothers who never told them about S-E-X. Meanwhile, Guilty Parents exploits poor impulse control and chorus girls showing their underwear.

Music

Deftones Pull a Late-Career Rabbit Out of a Hat with 'Ohms'

Twenty years removed from Deftones' debut album, the iconic alt-metal outfit gel more than ever and discover their poise on Ohms.

Music

Arcade Fire's Will Butler Personalizes History on 'Generations'

Arcade Fire's Will Butler creates bouncy, infectious rhythms and covers them with socially responsible, cerebral lyrics about American life past and present on Generations.

Music

Thelonious Monk's Recently Unearthed 'Palo Alto' Is a Stellar Posthumous Live Set

With a backstory as exhilarating as the music itself, a Thelonious Monk concert recorded at a California high school in 1968 is a rare treat for jazz fans.

Music

Jonnine's 'Blue Hills' Is an Intimate Collection of Half-Awake Pop Songs

What sets experimental pop's Jonnine apart on Blue Hills is her attention to detail, her poetic lyricism, and the indelibly personal touch her sound bears.

Music

Renegade Connection's Gary Asquith Indulges in Creative Tension

From Renegade Soundwave to Renegade Connection, electronic legend Gary Asquith talks about how he continues to produce infectiously innovative music.

Music

A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.

Books

Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.

Music

PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.

Film

'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

Bright Eyes' 'Down in the Weeds' Is a Return to Form and a Statement of Hope

Bright Eyes may not technically be emo, but they are transcendently expressive, beatifically melancholic. Down in the Weeds is just the statement of grounding that we need as a respite from the churning chaos around us.

Film

Audrey Hepburn + Rome = Grace, Class, and Beauty

William Wyler's Roman Holiday crosses the postcard genre with a hardy trope: Old World royalty seeks escape from stuffy, ritual-bound, lives for a fling with the modern world, especially with Americans.

Music

Colombia's Simón Mejía Plugs Into the Natural World on 'Mirla'

Bomba Estéreo founder Simón Mejía electrifies nature for a different kind of jungle music on his debut solo album, Mirla.

Music

The Flaming Lips Reimagine Tom Petty's Life in Oklahoma on 'American Head'

The Flaming Lips' American Head is a trip, a journey to the past that one doesn't want to return to but never wants to forget.

Music

Tim Bowness of No-Man Discusses Thematic Ambition Amongst Social Division

With the release of his seventh solo album, Late Night Laments, Tim Bowness explores global tensions and considers how musicians can best foster mutual understanding in times of social unrest.

Music

Angel Olsen Creates a 'Whole New Mess'

No one would call Angel Olsen's Whole New Mess a pretty album. It's much too stark. But there's something riveting about the way Olsen coos to herself that's soft and comforting.

Music

Masma Dream World Go Global and Trippy on "Sundown Forest" (premiere)

Dancer, healer, musician Devi Mambouka shares the trippy "Sundown Forest", which takes listeners deep into the subconscious and onto a healing path.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.