October 12, 2006

TV: Twenty Good Years

Let's take it as a given that if you hire John Lithgow and Jeffrey Tambor to star in a sitcom, you're clearly not interested in subtlety. Both are fine comic actors, but neither leans to understatement. Lithgow, in particular, is one of the broadest hams television has seen in recent years.

That broadness worked well for him on 3rd Rock From the Sun, but he was playing an alien from another planet on that show; he could get away with his oversize reactions, since the character didn't understand human norms.

But in this show, he's been cast as an actual person -- surgeon John Mason -- and it's a lot harder to justify the scale of his performance here. And as John's best pal, judge Jeffrey Pyne, Tambor is working as hard as he can to keep up with Lithgow, leaving the audience feeling clubbed into submission by a script in which all of the dialogue seems to be WRITTEN! JUST! LIKE! THIS!!!!!!!

The storyline finds John pushed into retirement and forced to move in with Jeffrey sort of a Golden Girls meets The Odd Couple concept. There are two other regular characters, Jeffrey's son, Hugh (Jake Sandvig), and John's daughter, Stella (Heather Burns), but they barely register in the first episode.

I like Lithgow and Tambor. They can be very funny. But they have got to tone it down for this show to have any chance to work; if they try to maintain the energy level of the first episode, it'll be exhausting for them, and even more so for us.

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