The New Adventures of Old Christine
With all the various combinations of couples-with-children sitcoms that have aired over the decades, it’s pretty impressive that The New Adventures of Old Christine, whose first season has just been released on DVD, manages to make the angle seem fresh. Louis-Dreyfus plays Christine Campbell — divorced mother of 8-year-old son Ritchie (Trevor Gagnon) — who maintains a close, if edgy, relationship with her ex, Richard (Clark Gregg). One reason for the edginess is Richard’s new, 28-year-old girlfriend, Christine (Emily Rutherford). Thus the ”old” versus ”new” Christine, a competition that could have proved uncomfortably catty but, on the strength of creator Kari Lizer’s writing and Louis-Dreyfus’ go-for-broke performance, results in one of the best old-fashioned studio-audience sitcoms in years.
It’s fun to watch a bunch of episodes in a row, and instructive to see how a fledgling show finds its voice: making small but crucial shifts in its characters’ quirks, boosting minor ones who start looking like reliable laugh-getters. Lizer made some wise adjustments, such as fine-tuning ”new” Christine as less of a bimbo and turning ”old” Christine’s live-in brother, Matthew (Hamish Linklater), into a more wily slacker. Viewing season 1 is a crash course in how to build a successful comedy series. (And Christine was a freshman hit for CBS, pulling in solid ratings and an Emmy for Louis-Dreyfus, even as the network moved it around and yanked it from the schedule for months before the writers’ strike began. Season 3 premieres Feb. 4.)
As a working mom (she owns a health club), ”old” Christine is ”all tension and teeth,” as Matthew describes her. She is quiveringly high-strung — it’s easy to see why the more laid-back Richard had to get away from her — yet she’s very winning in her desperate attempts to be a good mom as well as a middle-aged gal hoping to find a new Mr. Right. (That latter attempt is never funnier than when the always marvelous Andy Richter rolls on stage in the occasional role of sweaty, horny single dad Stan.)
The minimal extras on this DVD include a gag reel and a featurette including interviews with Lizer and the stars. Lizer is especially attuned to the competitive atmosphere of L.A., where at Ritchie’s school Christine is regularly bedeviled by two driven, blond ”meanie moms,” Marly (Tricia O’Kelly) and Lindsay (Alex Kapp Horner). But the show remains Louis-Dreyfus’ showcase. She’s trumped the ”Seinfeld curse” while distinguishing this character from Elaine Benes — her Christine may occasionally be as wacky as Elaine, but she’s more responsible, more guilt-ridden, more haunted by her age and diminishing romantic prospects. If all this sounds like serious stuff — well, what’s a good sitcom if not a mini-drama turned inside out? B+