|The Drew Carey Show: The Complete First Season (1995)
Starring: Drew Carey, Kathy Kinney, Diedrich Bader, Ryan Stiles, Christa Miller, Blake Clark, Katy Selverstone, Robert Torti, Kevin Pollak
Sitcoms have long been a haven for guys who get by on their sense of humor rather than their looks, and, hey, what a coincidence, I’ve just been handed a review copy of “The Drew Carey Show: The Complete First Season” on DVD! Wow, that’s so crazy. That’s totally not what I was getting ready to talk about when I originally started that sentence. But, y’know, now that I’ve brought it up, I might as well go ahead and say a few words about the show, huh?
I kid. I kid because both my mirth and my girth resemble Carey’s. Hell, I even wear glasses! Throw into the mix that I spent 29 years repeatedly hearing phrases like “How come I can never find a guy like you?” and “I could never get involved with you, it would ruin our friendship,” and you can see why I’m a fan of both the man and his sitcom.
In “The Drew Carey Show,” Carey made the wise decision to give his character the same name as himself, but this Drew Carey is the Assistant Director of Personnel for the Cleveland branch of the Winfred-Louder department store chain. He’s been there for the better part of a decade, climbed his way up to somewhere in the lower middle of the corporate ladder, and has stayed stagnant for quite awhile. It’s less because of his abilities and more because the employees who outrank him refuse to either quit or die. It’s all rather depressing for Drew, especially given that he’s got a cranky boss (voiced by Kevin Pollak) who, in the pilot, hires an even crankier assistant: the makeup-laden Mimi Bobeck (Kathy Kinney). Thank God, then, that he’s got a tight trio of friends that he’s known since childhood who help to keep his spirits high: Oswald (Diedrich Bader), Lewis (Ryan Stiles) and Kate (Christa Miller).
Okay, so that’s not much more than you’d get from the back of the DVD box, and if you’ve ever seen the show, you probably knew all that stuff, anyway, so let’s reminisce a bit about this first season of the series. If you remember how the first few episodes of “The Cosby Show” found Bill Cosby unabashedly recycling material from his stand-up routine, you won’t be surprised when you hear Carey doing the same thing. You just have to forgive him, of course; it was his first chance to play to middle America, rather just a select group of stand-up comedy fans, so of course he was going to trot out his funniest lines. Just because you’ve heard ‘em doesn’t mean that Joe Average has. Carey isn’t as subtle as Cosby when it comes to sliding in his older material – you can almost always tell when he’s throwing out a line that had been in his repertoire for awhile, because it feels shoehorned in – but funny’s still funny.
The supporting cast of “The Drew Carey Show” was always as crucial to the series’ success as Carey himself (if not moreso), and most of the characters emerged fully formed from the very first episode. Kinney’s performance as Mimi was a tour de force that owed as much to make-up and costumes as dialogue, but her delivery was always perfectly nasty; the same goes for Lewis’s incomparable eccentricities, which could only have been captured by Stiles. And, lest we forget, it was here that Christa Miller began to hone the bitchy persona that she would later take to new heights on “Scrubs,” as Dr. Cox’s ex-wife, Jordan. It’s really only Oswald who changes dramatically after this season; in this first year, he’s not the sharpest tool in the box, but he’s in no way the complete idiot he would eventually become. There are also a few first-season characters who appeared, didn’t really work, and vanished quickly, like Drew’s white trash neighbor, Jules (Blake Clark), and his family.
The episodes tend to be mostly self-contained, aside from a few threads connected them; it’s a rarity for any of them to venture beyond work, home, or the gang’s preferred watering hole, The Warsaw. As such, the stories tend to focus on one of three topics: Drew’s job sucks, Drew’s love life sucks, or Drew doesn’t have the money to fix something that’s wrong with his house. But, hey, those topics hit pretty close to home, so who cares? There was, however, a several-episode plot arc involving a sexual harassment lawsuit filed against Drew because he attached a cartoon about a caterpillar trying to engage in “relations” with a French fry to a company memo. Otherwise, however, the major recurring storyline throughout the season involves Drew’s attempts to begin a relationship with Lisa (Katy Selverstone), a woman he hires at Winfred-Louder before realizing that they’ve got a thing for each other. Given the company policy prohibiting dating between management and employees, the two are constantly trying to see each socially outside work, without letting anyone else know about their relationship (which inevitably leads to zany hijinks). There’s also a running storyline about the relationship between Kate and her new boyfriend, Jay (Robert Torti), but it’s worth nothing that, like Jules and his family, neither Jay nor the aforementioned Lisa lasted much beyond the first season, either. A few episodes into Season Two, their respective relationships were kaput and, effectively, so were they.
Some sitcoms take awhile to find their footing, but the first season of “The Drew Carey Show” proves that Carey and company always had a pretty good idea about where they wanted to go. The relationship between Drew and his friends always feels real – this comes courtesy of the producers’ choice to actually let the cast laugh at each others’ funny lines – and the result makes for a consistently funny show.
Just don’t fall asleep after hitting the “play all” button. If you do, you’ll find that the soundtrack to all your dreams will be the Season One theme song, “Moon Over Parma,” which plays incessantly over the menu screen. Trust me, once you get that song stuck in your head, it ain’t never coming out.
Special Features: It’s a little strange that we get a brand new documentary where creator Bruce Helford and virtually everyone in the cast sits down for an interview and gushes about what great camaraderie there was on the set of “The Drew Carey Show,” and yet none of them did audio commentary for any of the episodes. If everyone gets along so well, you’d think they’d jump at the chance to sit around and chew the fat about the old days. Aside from the 20-minute doc, the only other special feature is a short, strange, and not terribly funny commercial parody: “1-900-MIMI.” Let’s hope Warner Brothers can coax some commentary out of these people for Season Two.
In closing, just a small observation: surely there’s a tale to be told as to why Kevin Pollak was never credited in any of the episodes for his voiceover work as Mr. Bell, yet his name is now suddenly plastered on the DVD box art as a cast member. Whatever that story may be, I sense it’s directly tied to the explanation of why he’s the only regular who didn’t contribute to the aforementioned documentary. If anybody knows, drop me a line.