|Grounded for Life: Season One (2001)
Starring: Donal Logue, Megyn Price, Kevin Corrigan, Lynsey Bartilson, Griffin Frazen, Jake Burbage, Richard Riehle, and Bret Harrison
“Grounded for Life” is one of those sitcoms that kind of flew underneath the radar for a few years…from 2001 to 2005, in fact…but never really received the type of recognition it deserved. It’s great that Fox gave it a chance to exist in the first place, and it’s even better that the WB rescued it from oblivion when Fox kicked it to the curb after two years, but – at least for the purposes of this review – what’s best is that Anchor Bay is not only releasing it on DVD but also filling the Season 1 set chock full of extras.
So what makes “Grounded for Life” so awesome?
On the surface, it’s just another family sitcom: two parents, three kids, a freeloading uncle, and a meddling grandfather. No one here is going to run the stats, but let’s figure that probably sums up a good 19% of all television comedies, so, y’know, premise-wise, it’s not exactly original. The slight twist is that the parents are both in their early thirties and, as creators Mike Schiff and Bill Martin have explained, the concept is that it’s basically kids raising kids, or parents in training, if you will. These grown-ups haven’t grown up; if they had, they wouldn’t literally jump up and down at the news that the Ramones are playing at a New York City street fair, then drag their kids to see them when one has a science project due the next day. Plus, the dad – Sean Finnerty – is played by Donal Logue (a.k.a. Steve from “The Tao of Steve,” and Jimmy the Cab Driver from those awesome MTV spots from…ugh, was it really more than a decade ago?), the uncle – Eddie – is Kevin Corrigan (star of the great, underrated movie, “Kicked in the Head”), and the grandfather is Richard Riehle (Tom Smykowski from “Office Space,” the creator of the Jump to Conclusions Mat). Those are just the faces you’ll recognize immediately, but mother Claudia (Megyn Price), daughter Lily (Lindsey Bartilson), and sons Jimmy (Griffin Frazen) and Henry (Jake Burbage) fill out the rest of the cast, and it’s as solid a family ensemble as has been on TV in awhile. Unlike, say, “Malcom in the Middle,” the performances aren’t intentionally over the top; they’re realistic…which adds to the humor.
The format of the show is also unique, with most of its stories being told via flashback. For instance, one episode starts with the Finnertys looking for a new car, and we quickly discover this is because their old car was stolen. Through a series of flashbacks and revelations, we discover that the car was stolen by…well, that would be telling. But you get the idea. All the episodes don’t provide plot twists to rival Hitchcock, but the structure of the show and the way the episodes unfold keeps the viewer watching.
The writing is hilarious, particularly with the kids, who manage to be authentic without resorting to sitcom stereotypes. In one episode, the boys are making candy apples, and, when they’re left without adult supervision for awhile, they run out of apples…and Henry does what any real kid would do: starts looking for other stuff to dip. Suffice it to say, before it’s over with, Henry is eating a candied chicken wing while holding aloft all of his GI Joes, which have also been candy-dipped. (When you watch the episode, trust me, Grandpa’s reaction to this…which is just a look…will be the funniest thing you see that day.) Daughter Lily struggles with wanting to be cool and fit in. When her mom tries to regain the bond the two of them had when Lily was younger, they go on a weekend shopping expedition where Lily runs into some of her cheerleader classmates; Claudia does her best to come off as cool, but it backfires and, while she’s in the shower, Lily grabs the suitcase and takes a cab home (as you’d expect, it’s a little pricey)…leaving Claudia to drive home in nothing but a bathrobe, forced to flash tollbooth attendants to make up for the fact that her money is in the suitcase.
Oh, and did we mention that the show’s theme song was written by Ween? Make a note of this for future reference: if the song is cool enough to have a Ween-composed theme song, it’s cool enough for you to give it a chance. Unfortunately, the show was buried on Friday nights, when no-one even remotely cool was watching. (Seriously, ABC’s “TGIF” lineup killed an entire night of television viewing, and it’s damned depressing.)