It doesn’t seem fair to review the retro sitcom Gary Unmarried: as a social statement, it was already cancelled a long time ago.
For two reasons, it feels a little useless writing a review of Gary Unmarried, CBS' inexplicably titled new sitcom. Not at all intelligent, the show is pretty much immune to any form of legitimate criticism, and further, it will likely be gone within the first few weeks of this television season. So, to the dustbin of television ephemera:
Jay Mohr plays Gary Brooks, entrepreneurial housepainter (a job that seems designed by a focus group: both upwardly-mobile and regular-Joe enough to appeal to a wide swath of key demographics) and recently-divorced father of two. His wife Allison (Paula Marshall) is a broadly-painted ball-buster now engaged to their milquetoast marriage counselor (Ed Begley, Jr.). His kids are imported from other, better sitcoms: Louise (Kathryn Newton) has Lisa Simpson's preternatural liberal neuroses, without the charm, and Tom (Ryan Malgarini) is that sort of ineffectual pudgy kid who makes Dad fret -- Bobby from King of the Hill or Jake from Two and a Half Men.
Gary himself is a bit all-over-the-place in his characterization: a bit manic, a bit horn-dog, but mostly bored-looking. Mohr -- so good as the sonuvabitch sports agent Bob Sugar in Jerry Maguire and as the more soulful of the two gay actors in Doug Liman’s Go -- seems lost here, and while that’s in keeping with the series’ general theme (no longer married, a caveman reacts to a changing world), it makes for a basically unidentifiable lead.
Gary Unmarried’s pilot has Gary beginning a relationship Vanessa (Jaime King), a client and single mother who exhibits no notable personality traits aside from being significantly more physically attractive than Gary. The show seems uninterested in Vanessa. She's posited as a generic feminine ideal: gorgeous, she doesn’t talk back like Allison and she likes Gary without apparent reason. Indeed, her only "flaw" is that she doesn't immediately tell her new beau that she has a son.
All this might be forgiven if the jokes were funny, but they aren’t, and the extremely generous laugh track makes the point that more noticeable. Gary traffics in ancient beleaguered-dad material with tone-deaf references to Second Life and Entourage stapled on as a means of showing the series’ relevance -- or setting up for its eventual datedness.
If nothing else, the producers admirably resist the temptation of putting lipstick on their pig with things like production values. A traditional three-camera setup, which looks increasingly hoary on network television with every passing season, is perfect for this series. Gary is a figure from our near-past, a retro everyman: a jockish, Maxim-reading sort who gives his daughter shit for admiring Al Gore and tells us that by buying bread at the store, rather than baking it like some wussy-men, he’s supporting America. It’d be admirable -- a sort of updated Archie Bunker figure of regressive, annoyed conservatism, a Bush-man in an anti-Bush America -- if the show didn’t insist to us that Gary is right.
Late in the pilot, Allison belittles him when Gary’s scheme to get his son a girlfriend doesn’t seem to work out: “I have better instincts when it comes to our kids,” she says. Gary agrees, but then pokes his head in his son’s door and tells the girl hidden under his bed that he sees her handbag. Allison hadn’t. The laugh-track howls -- there are actual dubbed-in "knee-slapping’" noises -- as the girl sheepishly grabs her pink tote and drags it under the bed. A pissy rejoinder to the socially progressive: father still knows best.
And so it doesn’t seem fair to review Gary Unmarried at all: as a social statement, it was already cancelled a long time ago.