February 13, 2007

TV: Rules of Engagement

So with 8 zillion sitcoms to choose from, if you were going to rip one off, would Till Death really be your first choice?

No, I didn't think so, but that's what CBS has done here. We've got the 12-year veterans of marriage, Jeff and Audrey (Patrick Warburton and Megyn Price) living across the hall from the newbie couple, recently engaged Adam and Jennifer (Oliver Hudson and Bianca Kajlich). Added to the mix is creepy single guy Russell (David Spade, somehow continuing to find employment).

The show has exactly one thing going for it -- Warburton -- and it doesn't even use him very well. He's a terrific comic actor, with a laidback spin that gets laughs from even the most obvious lines, but his strengths are bravado and bluster; he's a big guy, and he's funniest when he can play off his size and his cartoonish macho quality. He gets to do some of that here, mostly in his scenes with Hudson and Spade, but in his scenes with Price, he's stuck playing the meek, vaguely henpecked husband, and all of his charm just drains away.

The other principals are competent enough. Price gives her marital spats a droll "been there, done that" flavor; Hudson and Kajlich are pretty to look at, in a blandly plastic way, and they do reasonably well at capturing the puppy-dog enthusiasm of a relationship that's still new.

Spade, on the other hand, is ghastly. He's never been a gifted comic actor, and he's not remotely credible as a successful ladies' man (would you sleep with him?). To the extent that he works at all, it's in very small doses; there's far too much of him in this show.

The writing isn't terribly original or witty, and the characters feel stale. Warburton is working hard, but even his best efforts aren't enough to recommend the show. I don't think this one will be around for long.

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