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Christopher Meloni re-seeds comedy roots in Fox's 'Surviving Jack'
March 26, 2014  | By Ed Bark  | 1 comment
 

Justin Halpern is still writ
ing what he knows -- which still isn’t much more than sitcoms about hard-ass dads who bedevil their sons and always say the wrong thing until they say the right thing.

Fox’s Surviving Jack shows considerable progress, though, when compared to Halpern’s 2010 CBS atrocity, $#*! My Dad Says. That was spawned by his Twitter feed. This one is based on Halpern’s autobiographical book, I Suck At Girls.

William Shatner made his maiden voyage as a comedy series regular in $#*! My Dad Says. Christopher Meloni, the gruff title character in Surviving Jack, is best known for his latter day dramatic roles in Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, True Blood and Oz. But he cut his TV teeth in comedy, even if few remember him anymore from a string of 1990s flops that began with The Fanelli Boys and continued with The Boys, Dinosaurs (in which he voiced Spike) and Misery Loves Company.

We bring this up not to bury Meloni but to praise him for his fine comedic work in Surviving Jack. It’s perhaps fittingly set in 1991, when The Fanelli Boys still roamed the earth until its last telecast in February of that year. Meloni played Frankie Fanelli. OK, enough.

Surviving Jack’s opening credits include Suzanne Somers demonstrating a ThighMaster. Then it’s time for Meloni to break some balls as hard-driving
, gruff-edged Jack Dunlevy, who’s first seen commanding his tallish teen son, Frankie (Connor Buckley), to run a lap around the block at 3 in the morning. The kid’s otherwise preparing to start his first year in high school.

Jack’s an oncologist by trade but becomes something of a full-time parent when his wife, Joanne (Rachael Harris), decides to start law school. The Dunlevys also have a knockout teen daughter named Rachel (Claudia Lee). Frankie’s semi-doofus best pals, George and Mikey (Kevin Hernandez, Tyler Foden), round out the cast.

Meloni pretty much crushes his role in the first two episodes sent for preview. Surviving Jack demands no less, but also calls for Jack to be more than a bellowing, coarse wrecking ball. Instead he’s even-voiced throughout, repeatedly assuring his skeptical wife, “I got this.” For constant, high-decibel dad yelling, go to ABC’s 1980s-set The Goldbergs.

Surviving Jack is being launched in a post-American Idol Thursday slot, which a few seasons back would have been the equivalent of rocket fuel. Now Idol is barely unleaded gas, with its ratings continuing to sink from week to week. So Surviving Jack will have to make it under its own power, with Meloni the drive shaft and the supporting players all doing their parts.

The opening half-hour sets the premise before focusing on Frankie’s awkwardness with girls and Jack’s hammer-and-tong remedies for that. Next week’s Episode 2 is built around Jack’s drill instructor training regimen after his son and friends ask for help in making the varsity baseball team.

Through it all, Jack is a man of a few choice words. Although he strings a fair number of them together near the end of Episode 2, telling Frankie, “Look, I don’t have friend
s. I think they’re something people use to distract themselves from the fear of death and the eternal darkness that follows.”

But warm -- or more accurately, lukewarm -- moments intercede before the final bells in both half-hours. And Meloni delivers them like a champ while also dominating during an American Gladiators face-off that jump-starts next week’s episode.

Surviving Jack at its best is amusing and at worst is still worth your time. Maybe that’s not saying much. But it’s also saying a lot in a season where higher profile sitcoms starring Michael J. Fox, Sean Hayes and Robin Williams have already been rejected. Now it’s name brand Christopher Meloni’s turn to get in the ring and re-plant his comedy roots. After almost 20 years of disuse, he can only hope they finally take hold.

GRADE: B
 
 
 
 
 
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1 Comments
 
 
patrick
I watched all of it. It was ok. I think the writers were trying too hard. And, in 1991 we used 'awesome' to describe the Grand Canyon & the Who.
Mar 28, 2014   |  Reply
 
 
 
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