You’d expect FX, the network behind great button-pushers like Rescue Me and Nip/Tuck, to throw some brilliant firebombs with its new sitcoms. The plan only kinda worked.
Take Starved, which drops provocative lines the way a preening teenage girl might if forced to attend her parents’ dinner party: scandalous in a pre-fab, easily dismissable way. Let’s gasp, then pass the vichyssoise.
That’s not to say Starved isn’t occasionally amusing; it’s just not as daring as it wants to be. It’s Seinfeld lite, overstuffed with wild situations, minus the slyness.
Written, directed, and starring the sometimes charming, sometimes annoying Eric Schaeffer (My Life’s in Turnaround), focuses on a Seinfeldian foursome of intellectual, neurotic New Yorkers in an eating-disorder support group: egotistic, anorexic commodities trader Sam (Schaeffer); bulimic/anorexic, bisexual singer Billie (Laura Benanti); bulimic cop Adam (Sterling K. Brown); and overeating novelist Dan (Del Pentecost).
Starved drops tiny, perfect details to paint out its characters’ obsessions. Adam arranges his Pop-Tarts in rows like a delicious game of Concentration; Sam weighs himself after peeing to see if he’s any lighter. The supporting cast is extremely affable, particularly Tony nominee Benanti, who gives her lines surprising little backspins. (She sells an entire scene with her delivery of the single word ”no.”) But Starved‘s showy premise is also its downfall. We can laugh guiltlessly at Jerry (or Ross, Will, or Grace) because he’s nice-looking and successful. But having a chuckle at a man making himself vomit on the side of the street feels a bit off.
The seesaw writing doesn’t help: In a single episode, you can see Sam slapstickily spraying water out of his ass after an ill-fated colonic and Billie pensively hitting the bottle after an ego-wrecking evening with her parents. In the wake of the sad hilarity of The Office, more series are attempting this jagged combination, proudly refusing to telegraph to the audience how we should feel (Lisa Kudrow’s The Comeback being one prime, unfunny example). But to pull that off, a series has to be pretty much tonally perfect — and Starved ain’t. Schaeffer may be incapable of such fine-tuning — he’s too busy trying to offend.