The new Mad About You is pretty much the old Mad About You — agreeable, familiar, a little meh.
Mad About You, which originally ran from 1992 to 1999 on NBC, was always a perfectly pleasant show. Starring Paul Reiser and Helen Hunt as affable Manhattan marrieds Paul and Jamie Buchman, the sitcom — created by Reiser and Danny Jacobson — offered observational, gently neurotic New York humor without the nihilism of Seinfeld or the horniness of Friends.
Now, Mad About You is back, 20 years older and as genial and inoffensive as ever. But is it necessary, reader? The answer is certainly “yes” for Spectrum, the telecommunications conglomerate and newest entrant into the Content Wars, which is producing 12 new episodes of the former Must-See TV hit for its On-Demand platform. For the rest of us, the Mad About You revival can best be described as the television equivalent of a shrug emoji.
It’s 2019, and Paul and Jamie are still married, still living in their spacious Greenwich Village apartment, which is just a bit more crowded with the comfortable clutter of two additional decades. Their daughter Mabel (Abby Quinn) — last seen as an adult in the flash-forward series finale, which this revival thankfully ignores — is just heading off to NYU, a mere five blocks away. Naturally, Jamie and Paul are unraveling as their “baby bird” leaves the nest (to quote a poem Paul wrote for the occasion). When Mad About You was on NBC, marriage and children was the “final frontier” that Andrew Gold sang about in the theme song. These new episodes, it seems, will focus on the final final frontier — an empty nest, and the disorienting readjustment to life as a person, not just a parent.
Like many only children, Mabel is needy and yet desperate for independence, and several of the story lines in the four episodes made available for review involve Paul and Jamie’s attempts to navigate their daughter’s conflicting demands. The humor is soft and silly: Jamie’s going through menopause, so Mark (Richard Kind, still the show’s chief source of laughs) gives her an experimental estrogen cream. It’s from Canada, so it smells like maple syrup; jokes about pancakes ensue. Characters say things like “Nothing can go wrong!” before things, inevitably, go wrong. Jamie picks a fight with Paul about his habit of taking a toothpick when leaving a restaurant, but anyone who’s ever been married knows the fight is not really about toothpicks.
The writers make a few small nods to the show’s non-broadcast TV home — Jamie gives the finger; a student calls “bullsh—” on Paul during his presentation to Mabel’s film class — but otherwise, the new Mad About You is pretty much the same as the old Mad About You. It’s agreeable, familiar, a little meh. Reiser is an expert at comically charming befuddlement; his cozy chemistry with Hunt remains intact 20 years later. As for the Oscar winner, she’s even allowed to act occasionally, like the scene in the series (season?) premiere where Jamie mourns the departure of her daughter — “She’s the love of my life” — and the loss of her own youth. “I’m so tired. My brain is tired. My body doesn’t work the way it used to,” she says, her voice tight with emotion. Then Paul initiates some physical comedy involving spaghetti, the laugh-track audience chuckles, and all’s right in the Mad About You world once again.
So, should you watch? If you were a fan of the original show — and you have Spectrum cable, which is the only place to find the revival — then… I guess? Seeing Hunt and Reiser, along with Kind and other original cast members including John Pankow (Paul’s cousin Ira), Anne Ramsay (Jamie’s sister Lisa), and Jerry Adler (the Buchmans’ super Mr. Wicker) is mildly heartwarming. If you’ve finished all your other binges, if there’s nothing good on TV, if you’ve got a pile of laundry to fold, then sure. Why not? C+
The first six episodes of Mad About You will premiere on Wednesday, Nov. 20 on Spectrum’s On Demand platform.