We gave it a C
In an unusual occurrence, The Job, that very funny Denis Leary cop sitcom, is being replaced with a promisingly funny, peculiarly titled show about a struggling TV network, Wednesday 9:30 (8:30 Central). What’s unusual about it is that they’re both created by writer-executive producer Peter Tolan, whose work as a scribe for the great Larry Sanders Show no doubt paved the way for the wry cameo Shandling makes in an upcoming Wednesday episode. Tolan specializes in the comedy of dysfunction: how people’s neuroses and compulsions screw up their public and private lives. This talent gives Job a resonance like few other shows on TV this past year. In Leary, who has made a career out of being a politically incorrect ranter (think Dennis Miller minus the smugness and the 10-dollar vocabulary), Tolan has an ideal vessel for his ideas about multitasking a multitude of sins. Leary’s NYC police detective, Mike McNeil, drinks, smokes, and cuts procedural corners to hilarious yet dangerous excess; he cheats on his wife (the vividly wan Wendy Makkena) and is a creep to his mistress (the radiant Karyn Parsons). The best — deepest, funniest — episode of Job’s season was the one before it went on ”hiatus” (networkspeak for ”We’ll see if we want to bring it back”), in which all of Mike’s sins converged. His marriage has been left dangling, and his substance abuse is no better than it was back during that mordantly funny bender that found him swilling so many bottles of cold medicine for its alcohol content that coworkers were asking him about his ”green mustache.”
Job is enhanced by its shot-on-the-New-York-streets look and a first-rate supporting cast, including the adorable Bill Nunn as Mike’s long-suffering partner and the sensational Diane Farr as a colleague who’ll take no crap for being a female cop. It would be a shame if this show didn’t return, because while Wednesday exhibits a lot of Job’s pungent irreverence, it lacks the same freshness. With Job, it was interesting to see a cop show that successfully crossed NYPD Blue and Barney Miller with real humor (sorry, Miller fans — the only TV Barneys I’ve ever liked are Don Knotts’ Barney Fife on The Andy Griffith Show and Barney the lush on The Simpsons). But, set as it is at a fictitious network, IBS, Wednesday’s atmosphere is not substantially different from that of any other TV TV-show, from Sports Night to, well, Larry Sanders.
Worse, its star is Jack & Jill’s handsome, blank-faced Ivan Sergei. Jack & Jill? I can’t believe someone from J&J is our ostensible protagonist, David Weiss, a newly hired exec at a fifth-rate net that airs a show called When Animals Bite and Won’t Let Go — i.e., junk not quite ludicrous enough (in this era of Celebrity Boxing) to be witty. Still, Wednesday has a lot of Tolan in it, which is to say that people behave very badly very amusingly. The senior vice president of IBS programming, played with a smear of smarm by James McCauley, establishes the universality of this show’s workplace by advising callow Weiss that ”there’s only one thing you need to know about this business…. Everybody is lying.” Ed Begley Jr., as the net’s president, is the sort of dim creep who sees everything as a career move, and asks Weiss if he’s Jewish. When Weiss replies in the affirmative, Begley shouts, ”Good choice!” Tolan’s subtlest creation is another VP, Lindsay, who insists Weiss deliver all his ”notes” about a show — TV-speak for suggestions and criticisms — to her rather than to the ”creative” side. As played with canny deviousness by Melinda McGraw, Lindsay is smart at office politics but gives herself away when, while trying to parrot something Weiss said, mistakenly uses the word subtextural. ”Do you know what subtextual means?” asks Weiss, allowing the audience to feel superior to Lindsay whether or not it knows the meaning either. Sly boy, that Tolan — he kisses up to the viewer as cleverly as his characters do, but with added irony.
It’s fun to see John Cleese do some Fawlty Towers blustering as the net’s Aussie owner, and guest star Lori Loughlin does some extremely generous joking about her Full House fame, playing the star of an IBS sitcom, Just the Three of Us. Still, my feeling persists: Give the Wednesday 9:30 time slot back to The Job and let the other show change its name to, oh, Monday 8:00.