Courting Alex

Bill Gibron

Here's hoping that Alex allows Jenna Eflman to explore the full extent of her comedic capabilities.

Courting Alex

Airtime: Mondays, 9:30pm ET
Cast: Jenna Eflman, Dabney Coleman, Josh Stamberg, Josh Randell, Hugh Bonneville
Network: CBS

Sitcoms cannot subsist on comedic situations alone. All good TV humor is character-driven, from Archie Bunker to Cosmo Kramer. When last we saw Jenna Elfman, she was attempting to create such an idiosyncratic icon, playing a flaky free spirit in ABC's semi-hit, Dharma & Greg. At first compared to Lucille Ball and Mary Tyler Moore, she was, five short seasons later, cancelled.

Following a not-so-electrifying effort to break into movies, Elfman is back in a midseason replacement for CBS. And if the debut episode of Courting Alex is any indication, Elfman may have a winner on her hands. A basic reconfiguration of creator Fred Baron's UK show, According to Bex, Elfman plays Alex Rose, a workaholic attorney in her father's (Dabney Coleman) powerful New York City firm. She's so busy she hasn't been to the grocery store since 2002 and takes important phone calls while on a dinner date. Yet Alex is also suffering a sort of mid-midlife crisis: she actually hates being alone. So, as Dad tries to hook her up with some loser lawyer in the office named Stephen (Josh Stamberg), Alex begins a process of soul-searching.

Such introspection leads to her first serious crush, a young tavern owner named Scott (Josh Randell). Unfortunately, Scott's bar is holding up a huge business deal that Daddy Rose wants very badly. Thus this series sets up its first novel conceit. Instead of wrapping up the pilot episode with a clever denouement, Courting Alex leaves the fiscal triangle unresolved. Moreover, it's unclear whether Alex is interested in Scott because of passion or an interest in breaking out of her funk. Recognizing herself in bland Stephen, Alex wants excitement, something she thinks she sees in desirable dreamboat Scott.

When focused on our fetching female lead, Courting Alex is effervescent. Eflman makes even some incredibly hackneyed exchanges between daughter and father dance with delight. Coleman is no slouch, but only gets off two good jokes in the first episode, mostly playing the stereotypical dad who hates to see his daughter unhappy and unmarried. The fact that Alex is a cranky stick-in-the-mud who wouldn't know a good time if it jumped up and bit her in the briefs insults her intelligence, not to mention her obvious success in a male-dominant profession. And yet, somehow, the show suggests that such achievement is hollow without a man to have and hold.

Equally aggravating in a totally different way is Alex's upstairs manfriend, Julian (Hugh Bonneville). Part horny hound (propositioning Alex for a little slap and tickle), part smarmy jester, he apparently can enter her apartment whenever he wants (Alex does not lock her NYC doors -- imagine that). He seems the most likely character to be written out of the series, offering nothing except occasional wit.

Which brings us back to Elfman. Alex is one of those "works in progress" who often show up in sitcoms about single women -- which makes her open to both possibilities and problems. The show can make use of this tension, but it might also fall prey to it. Ditching the serialized approach to the relationship with Scott in favor of more Julian and Stephen would be a step in the completely wrong direction. Staying "unsettled" within a standard sitcom format could be worse. Elfman can create one of those iconic television personalities. With Dharma, she almost did it. Here's hoping that Alex allows her to explore the full extent of her comedic capabilities.

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

Net Neutrality and the Music Ecosystem: Defending the Last Mile

Still from Whiplash (2014) (Photo by Daniel McFadden - © Courtesy of Sundance Institute) (IMDB)

"...when the history books get written about this era, they'll show that the music community recognized the potential impacts and were strong leaders." An interview with Kevin Erickson of Future of Music Coalition.

Last week, the musician Phil Elverum, a.k.a. Mount Eerie, celebrated the fact that his album A Crow Looked at Me had been ranked #3 on the New York Times' Best of 2017 list. You might expect that high praise from the prestigious newspaper would result in a significant spike in album sales. In a tweet, Elverum divulged that since making the list, he'd sold…six. Six copies.

Keep reading... Show less

Under the lens of cultural and historical context, as well as understanding the reflective nature of popular culture, it's hard not to read this film as a cautionary tale about the limitations of isolationism.

I recently spoke to a class full of students about Plato's "Allegory of the Cave". Actually, I mentioned Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" by prefacing that I understood the likelihood that no one had read it. Fortunately, two students had, which brought mild temporary relief. In an effort to close the gap of understanding (perhaps more a canyon or uncanny valley) I made the popular quick comparison between Plato's often cited work and the Wachowski siblings' cinema spectacle, The Matrix. What I didn't anticipate in that moment was complete and utter dissociation observable in collective wide-eyed stares. Example by comparison lost. Not a single student in a class of undergraduates had partaken of The Matrix in all its Dystopic future shock and CGI kung fu technobabble philosophy. My muted response in that moment: Whoa!

Keep reading... Show less

'The Art of Confession' Ties Together Threads of Performance

Allen Ginsberg and Robert Lowell at St. Mark's Church in New York City, 23 February 1977

Scholar Christopher Grobe crafts a series of individually satisfying case studies, then shows the strong threads between confessional poetry, performance art, and reality television, with stops along the way.

Tracing a thread from Robert Lowell to reality TV seems like an ominous task, and it is one that Christopher Grobe tackles by laying out several intertwining threads. The history of an idea, like confession, is only linear when we want to create a sensible structure, the "one damn thing after the next" that is the standing critique of creating historical accounts. The organization Grobe employs helps sensemaking.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.