Mad About You
If Jerry Seinfeld were to meet the perfect woman, cave in to commitment, dump his friends, and get a dog, you ‘d have Mad About You. And I say that knowing full well that it’s probably going to annoy the heck out of Mad About You’s cocreator and star, Paul Reiser.
Still, Mad About You, now in its second season of low-key plots and high New York anxiety, is unthinkable without the example of Seinfeld. Not a rip- off so much as an elaboration on a mood, Mad has attracted a devoted following for the endless, circular chatter between Reiser and his TV wife, played by the exemplary Helen Hunt. As Paul and Jamie Buchman, a newlywed couple carving out lives in Greenwich Village (he’s a documentary filmmaker; she’s recently unemployed), Reiser and Hunt coo, kiss, squeeze, argue, and walk the dog-a nicely bland one, named Murray. Dialogue on Mad tends to be quick, angling for comedy in the way this duo completes each other’s thoughts. When they’re in a restaurant pondering their order, their badinage goes like this: He: ”Ziti is what?” She: ”Tubes.” He: ”Tubes!” Paul orders the ziti.
According to the Nielsen ratings, women watch this show more than men (see sidebar). Two possible reasons for this: (1) Women enjoy the concept of The Happy Couple; men don’t find this good fodder for laughs. (2) In this situation comedy, the situation (see Happy Couple above) is more entertaining than the comedy. When watching a sitcom, women don’t mind if they don’t bust a gut; men do.
Indeed, this season Mad has just about guaranteed a no-big-laughs policy by making Jamie’s sister, Lisa (Ann Ramsay), much more of a hostile whiner; turning the couple’s friend Fran (Leila Kenzle) into a bitter divorcee; increasing screen time for Paul’s bland cousin, Ira (John Pankow); and adding egregiously overrated stand-up comic Steven Wright in a recurring role as a dull chum.
At once fussy and aggressive, Reiser’s Paul is a pain. It is difficult to understand what Jamie sees in this incessant complainer, aside from the fact (and is this another reason women like Mad more than men?) that he’s so constantly, crazily mad about her. But who wouldn’t be? In addition to creating a new feminine mystique-call it fresh-scrubbed vamp-Hunt puts a sharper comic twist on her intentionally banal lines than Reiser does on his. Really, if it weren’t for Hunt, I’d never have made it through as many Mad About You episodes as seemed necessary to write this review. C -KT
You know, don’t you, that the creative brains behind Seinfeld didn’t originally plan to include a woman as a regular cast member at all, that before the character of Elaine was added in a burst of enlightened innovation, the show was just going to be about Jerry and the boys kvetching and lusting and messing up while pursuing impossible relationships with improbable people with breasts? Keep that in mind and you’ll understand that the really revolutionary thing about Mad About You, the reason it radiates real warmth (rather than Seinfeldian crackle)-and thus the reason women love it-is that it truly is an equal-opportunity comedy.
The pleasure of Mad (created by Paul Reiser and Danny Jacobson by comparing notes on the first year of their own marriages) lies in the refreshing joint distribution of power (and resourcefulness and winsomeness) between its costars. Unlike the stars of Home Improvement (which is always, ultimately, Tim Allen’s show, even if Patricia Richardson sparkles as his wife), Reiser and Hunt truly share the spotlight. She is as smart as he is, and as funny, and as cute, and there’s a big coed audience of fans who want to be with a girl just like Hunt’s Jamie, or who want to be just like her. Similarly, there is a contingent who would be happy to be married to a boy just like Reiser’s Paul, a lively, funny guy who is so clearly crazy about his wife. Or who might want to be him-so verbal, so willing to talk and not grunt, so hotsy with Helen Hunt. (Roseanne and Dan Conner are verbal and affectionate on Roseanne, too, but few viewers, I’d wager, envy the couple’s decor, their fashion sense, or their avoirdupois.)
Mad is never as barking-out-loud funny as Seinfeld, but that shouldn’t be our point of comparison. This is a sitcom about connections, rather than disjunctions, and connections are never as easy a comedy mark. If the dialogue is muzzier and the plots are more mundane (a screwed-up 30th-birthday celebration, a dad in the hospital, a neurotic single sister), at least Paul and Jamie have a family that matters more than as a punch line (though Paul’s Jewish mother is an unfortunate caricature). This sitcom doesn’t boil. But it simmers nicely, like good soup, or a good relationship. B -LS