Two new sitcoms, Gary Unmarried and Worst Week, are both about good guys trying to do right and often screwing up, ’cause that’s what guys do (shrug, smile!). With that formula, both comedies fit well on CBS, TV’s official ”The Boy Can’t Help It” network, which has brought us such clueless-dude programming as Everybody Loves Raymond, The King of Queens, Still Standing, Rules of Engagement, and Two and a Half Men.
Gary is by far the more mold-fitting show, down to the mechanical laugh track and zoiks! reaction shots. Former SNL comic Jay Mohr, who once had an edgy rep with the satiric 1999 series Action, is crammed into the friendly-idiot role here. He’s Gary, a newly divorced father of two, who has — get this — a strident, exasperated ex-wife (Paula Marshall) who must remind him which kid takes herbal supplements before bed. ”If I try to give you ginkgo tonight, don’t take it,” Gary warns his son (Ryan Malgarini), in a great throwaway line. Gary‘s at its sharpest in these quick, toss-off moments, probably because Mohr seems most comfortable in them: He has a nice, twitchy scene with Ed Begley Jr., who plays his former marriage counselor and new nemesis. But give him too long a setup, or too tender an emotion, and things get awkward, like when he says to a potential girlfriend (Kitchen Confidential‘s Jaime King), ”I reeeally like you, I doo-ooo,” in a disturbing singsongy shot at earnestness. Gary‘s uneven because it doesn’t feel like a sitcom working for Mohr, but Mohr working for a sitcom. He doesn’t make or break the jokes — he only delivers them, the comedic equivalent of the phrase ”Hey, I just work here.”
That’s the difference between Mohr in Gary and Kyle Bornheimer in Worst Week. Best known for clever Stanley and T-Mobile TV commercials, Bornheimer makes an excruciating premise quite palatable: In Worst Week, based on a BBC series, he’s average Sam, a guy who knocked up his girlfriend (The Winner‘s Erinn Hayes) and must win over her wealthy, disapproving parents (My Name Is Earl‘s Nancy Lenehan and stern-dad vet Kurtwood Smith from That ’70s Show, among others). Unfortunately, disaster follows Sam, who suffers such horrors as mistaking a cooking pot for a urinal and jokingly telling his girlfriend, ”I’m going to punch you in the face,” just as her ominous father enters the room. It’s a Meet the Parents situation, only much funnier. Bornheimer is the find of the fall season — a stammering, aw-shucksy guy who can get a laugh from just a weird spin on the words ”No? Okay.” Unlike Ben Stiller’s wired energy, which made Parents more tense than funny, Bornheimer absorbs every setback with such a beaten-puppy air that each fresh misery feels ludicrous, rather than merely annoying. Will it work, (worst) week after (worst) week? With Bornheimer, it’s strangely possible. His is a feathery touch on wrecking-ball comedy. Gary: C+ Worst Week: B+