Good Morning, Miami

You’re a television producer with a show about an irresistibly cute couple whose lives are complicated both by their hormones and their over-the-top friends. The show is a hit, you become the toast of Hollywood, and your cast and crew starts collecting awards like a miser collects pennies. What do you do to capitalize on your success?

If you’re Max Mutchnick and David Kohan, creators of Will & Grace, you recreate the formula, with slight adjustments. And so, Good Morning, Miami focuses on an irresistibly cute couple whose lives are complicated by their hormones and their over-the-top coworkers. Aside from the “co-workers” angle, the new show is different from Will & Grace in two other ways: one, the male lead isn’t gay (which makes the prospect of romance for the irresistibly cute couple much more likely); and two, it’s not as funny.

Jake Silver (Mark Feuerstein) is a hotshot tv producer who grudgingly takes the job of producing the lowest rated morning news show in America. Encouraging him to take this position are two women. One is his grandmother, Claire (Suzanne Pleshette), a gambling, bourbon-swilling, foul-mouthed old broad, the type of crusty, full of life character that Ruth Gordon made a career out playing in her later years. The other is the news show’s adorable hairstylist, Dylan (Ashley Williams, one of this tv season’s most talented and photogenic newcomers).

At first, Jake’s instinct tells him the job is not what he is looking for, and after meeting the cast and crew, he knows he was right. Frank (Jere Burns), the station manager, is a nervous, pill-popping mess, his assistant Penny (Constance Zimmer), is a lazy, blue-haired freak, and the show’s “weather girl” is a high-strung, angry nun named Sister Brenda (Brooke Dillman). The anchors, Gavin (Matt Letscher) and Lucia (Tessie Santiago), are so egotistical they refuse to accept advice or direction from anyone, including their new producer.

No one can blame Jake for wanting to reject this job in favor of one of the multitude of offers he has received from more reputable news programs around the country. However, his desire to flee the scene changes when he lays eyes on Dylan. Immediately stricken, Jake decides to stay.

But, this being the series premiere, his decision has to draw out, and so, he changes his mind again when he learns that Dylan is Gavin’s girlfriend, responsible for getting the once-hot reporter off the booze and into a 12-step program. But when Jake tries to tell Dylan goodbye, she butters him up, commending his courage in accepting the challenge of “our little show.” This leaves him stuttering and quite unable to leave (her). He now views the job as an opportunity, to turn the disastrous morning show into a critical and commercial success, and, no small thing, to woo Dylan away from Gavin.

Good Morning, Miami seems less aware of its own opportunities, namely, its lively characters and newsroom setting. The first episode felt like a homework assignment done at the last minute, as if the makers just wanted to get something down on paper to turn in, and deal with the ramifications later.

It is immediately clear that the producers did little homework on the city of Miami, as the show might be set in Anytown, U.S.A., with few changes to the script. Claire refers to greyhound racing and Lucia, to the news show’s Latino audience, but other than that, you’d never know they were in Miami. This is most evident in the cast, as Santiago is the only Hispanic member. (Even the office workers, those extras hired to walk around in the background looking like they are doing shuffling papers, are all white.) Santiago’s Lucia is a fashion disaster who clutches her little dog. She is the Mariah Carey of morning tv, all diva and attitude and no substance.

The Hispanic community would be justifiably upset were Lucia the show’s only stock character. But most every character on Good Morning, Miami is underdeveloped and clichéd. What makes the exaggerated characters in Will & Grace funny is that they’re written as parodies of stereotypes, the nelly, arrogant gay best friend, and rich, alcoholic bitch. On Good Morning, Miami, the characters don’t mock the stereotypes (crusty but wise grandmother, self-centered tv anchor, gen-x punk); they are the stereotypes.

Like Lucia, Gavin seems glib and arrogant. He’s a potential mentor and sounding board for Jake, having once been as up-and-coming as the younger man is now. But Gavin’s heartfelt confession about how alcohol destroyed his career is used here to set up animosity between the two characters rather than bring them together. This is regrettable, as it reduces the Jake-Gavin-Dylan triangle to easy decisions for the viewers. It also raises the question of why the sweet and loving Dylan would even be attracted to the boorish Gavin.

Still, of all the missed opportunities on Good Morning, Miami, none is more problematic, than the lack of material for star Feuerstein. The premise of the rational man working amongst a cast of wackos is nothing new in sitcom-land (think of Taxi, Barney Miller, NewsRadio, and Spin City, to name just a few precursors). Those series worked because the lead was more than just a straight man: Barney Miller and Mike Flaherty were funny and complex, even if they were surrounded by goofballs.

In the Good Morning, Miami premiere, Jake appeared to have two functions: he listened intently while other characters provided exposition about themselves, and he stares stupidly at Dylan. Feuerstein is a handsome and gifted actor, and he might make up for his series’ weaker aspects, much like Michael J. Fox has done a couple of times. But he needs a more developed, dynamic character to play.

Still, I think Good Morning, Miami has an opportunity. Though the first episode doesn’t demonstrate new insights into an extremely diverse city, original characters, or innovative plotting, the show might still come around. After all, it is all about life in an ever-changing society.

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