Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Channel surfing: The New Adventures of Old Christine

So in this (cheesily titled--sorry Todd, I couldn't think of anything else!) new feature, we'll be checking out shows we don't normally watch. So first I've opted for How I Met Your Mother's new partner The New Adventures of Old Christine, or NAOOC (CBS should call Mondays at 8 the "sitcoms with long titles" hour!). I'll admit I'd checked this show out once before, right at the start of its second season, and thought it was a good time, but with the central conceit being the tired domestic single mom situation, it was not enough to really draw me in.

This time around I found a lot more to recommend. Julia Louis-Dreyfus really has this character DOWN now--I wasn't thinking of Ms. Benes at all when watching her. It's a weary, amusingly brittle performance, and she has nice chemistry with the whole ensemble. When I last watched, I found the ensemble kinda boring, but this time there was WANDA SYKES (in the first episode of Monday's double-bill), who is funny even in the worst movies/shows, and had a great scene here playing some obscure Yu-Gi-Oh!-esque card came with the brother (who is definitely a stock sitcom character, but the guy is funny) and son. I read this is a recurring role, which Sykes is definitely suited to, so thumbs up from me on that. Another character, New Christine (Emily Rutherfurd) had me laughing every time she said anything. It was something about her ever-so-slightly blank delivery/innocent demeanor that I just found hilarious. Have I misinterpreted mediocre acting for high comedy, or is Rutherfurd in fact a genius?

Writing-wise, the show seems to have settled into quite a nice groove. The dialogue doesn't exactly crackle, but it's sparky just the same. At first, the premise for this show (Julia Louis-Dreyfus is a divorced mom! Uh-oh!) seemed a little too ordinary for me, but the two episodes I watched on Monday both had enjoyably wacky plots. In one, Christine started taking sleeping pills and began to make weirdly cheerful calls to people while under their influence, bringing back some old flame she had traumatically broke up with. In the other, Christine made out with her ex-husband's studly brother (played by the Stanford branch boss from The Office!), only for him to reveal he was gay. Really, I'm impressed by how these plots really shouldn't have been enough to sustain a whole episode (the gay brother thing could have if they played it dramatically, but they didn't, keeping things light but respectful), but they basically totally did. From what I could tell, there really aren't B-stories in these episodes, and very few scenes revolving around anyone other than Christine, but the shows never dragged or seemed too circumstantial.

Honestly, I was impressed enough by what I sampled here to actually start watching Old Christine full-time. With The Class gone and likely never to return, I'd like to pick up another comedy, and this has everything I'm looking for. It's got a nice ensemble that's very balanced (no show-stoppers, but no real drags from what I could tell), a traditional setup that's still fresh enough (aka a good amount of risque-for-CBS sex jokes), and, um, Wanda Sykes. What a pleasant surprise?


Todd VanDerWerff said...

I watched these two episodes too and really enjoyed them. It's nothing revolutionary or daring, nor are its characters as well-drawn as those on Office or HIMYM, but it has a real organic appeal that, say, Rules of Engagement doesn't. And Dreyfus turns in a great performance.

Kenny said...

The thing I can't get past about Old Christine (and I've found at least a couple of people who agree with me) is that if her relationship with her ex-husband is so great, as they repeatedly profess that it is, why did they get divorced? It seems awfully selfish considering that they have a young son. Their only problem was supposedly boredom in the bedroom. They couldn't work through that? Plenty of people work through worse for their kids' sake.

Also, for such a supposedly nice guy, the husband comes off like a dick or an insensitive idiot for always dragging his girlfriend around to rub in Old Christine's face, even though his ex-wife is clearly bothered by it.

David Sims said...

I know what you mean, Kenny. Being unfamiliar with the show's history I was a little confused as to why Christine wasn't with her husband, who she gets on so well with and sees all the time (even when not with their kid). I figure that's been addressed sometime in the show, but it's still kinda jarring.

Still, I also agree with Todd (I'm just Mr. Agree!) in that the show definitely has real appeal. I'm stickin' with it.