Out of Practice

Michael Abernethy

The pilot episode offered only one moment when anyone appeared relaxed, and those characters, a loving elderly couple Ben spotted in a restaurant, are extras.

Out of Practice

Airtime: Mondays, 9:30pm ET
Cast: Christopher Gorham, Stockard Channing, Henry Winkler, Ty Burrell, Paula Marshall
Network: CBS

Out of Practice is dripping with talent. Stars Stockard Channing, Henry Winkler, Jennifer Tilley, and Christopher Gorham, and writers Joe Keenan and Christopher Lloyd have between them 19 Emmys (and 26 nominations), two Golden Globes, two Oscar nominations, and 56 other nominations or wins for various entertainment awards. It's not unreasonable to expect this group will put together a sharp, fresh comedy.

Then again, history has shown that great talent doesn't guarantee good television. In recent seasons, networks -- hiring impressive and not-so-impressive artists -- have failed to generate the "next great sitcom." This means any show that even looks promising becomes a beacon for discerning viewers. This is the case again, with Out of Practice.

Though CBS' publicity push has underlined repeatedly the participation of Channing and Winkler, they're not the show's focus. Gorham is. His character, Ben, is the stereotypical "black sheep." The only member of his family who is not a "real doctor," he's merely a psychologist, whereas his parents and siblings are MDs. He's also the only one who appears reasonable, which leaves him looking alienated amid a pack of crass, self-indulged individuals. Consequently, Ben is not the sort of protagonist who usually fronts a "great sitcom."

This is not to suggest that his relatives have banded together to exclude Ben. There is no unity in the Barnes family. Parents Stewart (Winkler) and Lydia (Channing) are bitterly divorced, and his brother Oliver (Ty Burrell) and sister Regina (Paula Marshall) would do just about anything to avoid spending an evening with them. Many of the jokes stem from the antagonism among the Barnes. The pilot episode offered only one moment when anyone appeared relaxed, and those characters, a loving elderly couple Ben spotted in a restaurant, are extras.

The Barnes are not completely heartless, however. When Ben's never-seen wife Naomi called during the pilot, after he left the room, the family overheard her message that she was leaving him. Their immediate instinct was to protect and comfort Ben, but that concern quickly turned into ridicule of Naomi. Unaware of the call, Ben assumed the family was amusing themselves at his wife's expense and stormed off angrily. This series of events accomplished two things: it created a state of turmoil for the sole stable character, especially once he learned about Naomi's call, and second, it resulted in even more tension.

That this tension derives from Keenan and Lloyd's usual tricks, like the overheard phone call and the misunderstood conversation, only makes a comparison to Frasier more likely. Out of Practice also features judgmental and insecure characters, but less "balance" between opponents. Ben is up against everyone else, and his potential effectiveness as a peacemaker is damaged by his impeding separation. One might want Ben to succeed, but he never will.

Frasier had one other advantage over Out of Practice. Frasier Crane was a known commodity when the show started, and even carried over some sympathy from his Cheers days. No one knows the Barnes, and so they only look mean and superficial. Lydia's only concern when she learns her ex is dating his receptionist (Tilly) is that hospital workers will assume he left Lydia for a younger woman, not that she had left him because he was an inferior doctor who was holding her back professionally. Her feelings stem not from a sense that she's been slighted for a young babe, but from the fact that she has lost a round of one-upmanship with her ex, a loss that is public to boot. Lydia, like the rest of her family, doesn't care who does what, as long as it makes her look superior.

Fortunately, Gorham possesses a natural charm. Two years ago, I reviewed his Jake 2.0 and maintained he would find a more suitable role once that show was cancelled (which it quickly was). Following another short-lived mistake last season (anyone remember Medical Investigation?), Gorham has found that role in Ben.

Like Gorham, Channing and Winkler punched a few laughs into their dialogue; however, their scenes together are the weakest of the pilot, as their nonverbal communication conveys none of the hostility of the dialogue. It is hard to imagine they were ever married or raised three children together, or even have a sustained history of mutual animosity. They're both most effective when interacting with one of the younger stars, problematic for a series premised on the parents' conflict. All other dysfunction flows from them. If their tension is not believable, then it is hard to buy into the disdain Regina and Oliver have for their parents.

While writing this review, I was interrupted by a phone call from my parents. When my father found out what I was doing, he said that he had seen Out of Practice and thought it was "silly." That's not high praise from Dad, as it means a show has a few amusing moments but generally failed to hold his interest. Had Keenan and Lloyd devoted more time to providing their characters with depth and less to flinging insults, viewers might have developed empathy for them and better understood why they feel such aggression toward one another. And Dad and I might be more inclined to tune in for Episode Two.






Great Peacock Stares Down Mortality With "High Wind" (premiere + interview)

Southern rock's Great Peacock offer up a tune that vocalist Andrew Nelson says encompasses their upcoming LP's themes. "You are going to die one day. You can't stop the negative things life throws at you from happening. But, you can make the most of it."


The 80 Best Albums of 2015

Travel back five years ago when the release calendar was rife with stellar albums. 2015 offered such an embarrassment of musical riches, that we selected 80 albums as best of the year.


Buridan's Ass and the Problem of Free Will in John Sturges' 'The Great Escape'

Escape in John Sturge's The Great Escape is a tactical mission, a way to remain in the war despite having been taken out of it. Free Will is complicated.


The Redemption of Elton John's 'Blue Moves'

Once reviled as bloated and pretentious, Elton John's 1976 album Blue Moves, is one of his masterpieces, argues author Matthew Restall in the latest installment of the 33 1/3 series.


Whitney Take a Master Class on 'Candid'

Although covers albums are usually signs of trouble, Whitney's Candid is a surprisingly inspired release, with a song selection that's eclectic and often obscure.


King Buzzo Continues His Reign with 'Gift of Sacrifice'

King Buzzo's collaboration with Mr. Bungle/Fantômas bassist Trevor Dunn expands the sound of Buzz Osborne's solo oeuvre on Gift of Sacrifice.


Jim O'Rourke's Experimental 'Shutting Down Here' Is Big on Technique

Jim O'Rourke's Shutting Down Here is a fine piece of experimental music with a sure hand leading the way. But it's not pushing this music forward with the same propensity as Luc Ferrari or Derek Bailey.


Laraaji Returns to His First Instrument for 'Sun Piano'

The ability to help the listener achieve a certain elevation is something Laraaji can do, at least to some degree, no matter the instrument.


Kristin Hersh Discusses Her Gutsy New Throwing Muses Album

Kristin Hersh thinks influences are a crutch, and chops are a barrier between artists and their truest expressions. We talk about life, music, the pandemic, dissociation, and the energy that courses not from her but through her when she's at her best.


The 10 Best Fleetwood Mac Solo Albums

Fleetwood Mac are the rare group that feature both a fine discography and a successful series of solo LPs from their many members. Here are ten examples of the latter.


Jamila Woods' "SULA (Paperback)" and Creative Ancestry and Self-Love in the Age of "List" Activism

In Jamila Woods' latest single "SULA (Paperback)", Toni Morrison and her 1973 novel of the same name are not static literary phenomena. They are an artist and artwork as galvanizing and alive as Woods herself.


The Erotic Disruption of the Self in Paul Schrader's 'The Comfort of Strangers'

Paul Schrader's The Comfort of Strangers presents the discomfiting encounter with another —someone like you—and yet entirely unlike you, mysterious to you, unknown and unknowable.


'Can You Spell Urusei Yatsura' Is a Much Needed Burst of Hopefulness in a Desultory Summer

A new compilation online pulls together a generous helping of B-side action from a band deserving of remembrance, Scotland's Urusei Yatsura.


Jess Cornelius Creates Tautly Constructed Snapshots of Life

Former Teeth & Tongue singer-songwriter Jess Cornelius' Distance is an enrapturing collection of punchy garage-rock, delicate folk, and arty synthpop anthems which examine liminal spaces between us.


Sikoryak's 'Constitution Illustrated' Pays Homage to Comics and the Constitution

R. Sikoryak's satirical pairings of comics characters with famous and infamous American historical figures breathes new and sometimes uncomfortable life into the United States' most living document.


South African Folk Master Vusi Mahlasela Honors Home on 'Shebeen Queen'

South African folk master Vusi Mahlasela pays tribute to his home and family with township music on live album, Shebeen Queen.


Planningtorock Is Queering Sound, Challenging Binaries, and Making Infectious Dance Music

Planningtorock emphasizes "queering sound and vision". The music industry has its hierarchies of style, of equipment, of identities. For Jam Rostron, queering music means taking those conventions and deliberately manipulating and subverting them.


'History Gets Ahead of the Story' for Jazz's Cosgrove, Medeski, and Lederer

Jazz drummer Jeff Cosgrove leads brilliant organ player John Medeski and multi-reed master Jeff Lederer through a revelatory recording of songs by William Parker and some just-as-good originals.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

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