Whoopi Goldberg reviewed
September 18, 2003
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On one hand there’s “Whoopi,” (7 p.m., Tuesdays, NBC) starring former center square Whoopi Goldberg as freewheeling outspoken hotel operator Mavis Rae. Selling itself on the outrageous and slightly offensive humor of Goldberg, the show aims to be a more relevant and relatable comedy.
Then there’s “Happy Family,” (7:30 p.m., Tuesdays, NBC) which is unapologetically unbelievable. Veterans Christine Baranski and John Larroquette lead the show as parents who look forward to having a house to themselves, but wacky circumstances and coincidences prevent that from happening.
But despite the differences, both shows fail in one very important aspect: being funny.
“Whoopi” is the more enjoyable of the shows, if for nothing else than the bravado that Goldberg brings to her role. Putting the show in a hotel was a smart move by creators Bonnie and Terry Turner (“3rd Rock from the Sun,” “That ’70s Show”) as it gives Goldberg a rotating cast of people to insult and play off of.
And fortunately hotel handyman Nasim (Omid Djalili) gives a solid supporting character for Goldberg to play with, though mostly for purposes of Middle-Eastern based, topical humor. While the show does have a good bit of relevant and harsh humor — at the expense of race, the President and anti-smoking laws — very little of it is truly funny.
Not helping the cause is the very stagy delivery to most of these jokes that make them feel quite forced. And the non-topical jokes really aren’t good at all. “Your mama!” apparently is still a witty comeback according to the first episode.
The closest thing to actual plots on the show involve Mavis’ brother Courtney (Wren T. Brown), who is this generation’s version of “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air’s” Carlton: A black man who’s living a very conservative, WASP-y life. But while out of work and dating a white woman (Elizabeth Regan) who’s teaching him about being black, he manages to grate on Mavis’ nerves, but still be endearing.
While the first episode was quite meandering and really didn’t accomplish anything, there are some interesting options. Goldberg and Djalili have good chemistry and when not going into histrionics, can be very entertaining.
And there’s some untapped humor in Mavis’ one-hit wonder music career. The pratfalls of a washed-up celebrity are just ripe with humor, and the fading career jokes seem to hit close to home for Goldberg, whose credibility and bankability have greatly declined over the last few years.
“Happy Family” features two more faded stars in Baranski and Larroquette. (Larroquette’s last TV attempt was the failed “Payne,” which was based on “Faulty Towers,” the same inspiration for “Whoopi.”) Both have exhibited great sitcom talent — Baranski in “Cybil” and Larroquette in “Night Court” and “The John Larroquette Show”— but have their talents wasted by the unfathomable set-up of the show.
Parents Peter and Annie Brennan are on the eve of having the run of the house with youngest son Tim (Tyler Francavilla) graduating from junior college and moving out. And with Sara (Melanie Deanne Moore) having a successful career and Todd (Jeff Bryan Davis) a few weeks away from marriage, everything seems to be fine.
But in the course of a day Todd’s engagement falls apart due to his affair, Sara is clinically depressed due to lack of male interest and Tim not only failed to graduate but also is shacking up with the Brennan’s next-door neighbor, who has about 20 more years life experience than Tim.
And yes, that’s all on the same day. And yes, that’s about the extent of the plot for the show. The refusal of the kids to truly leave home is meant to carry the rest of the show, but it’s a razor thin set-up. Which is a shame for the two parents.
Baranski and Larroquette have good chemistry and are best when playing off each other, but whenever the rest of the cast is involved, the show falls apart. The set-up is just too inane to be engaging.
The three stars of these two shows all deserve better, but the cyclical nature of television probably means they’ll get another shot.
“Happy Family”: CD,”Matthew T. Olson”