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Reviewed by Will Harris
allelujah! The post-“Seinfeld” sitcom curse is broken!
Oh, don’t pretend you don’t know what I’m talking about. After “Seinfeld” departed the airwaves and the man who gave the series its name opted out of doing another sitcom, the show’s almost-as-famous supporting cast – Michael Richards, Jason Alexander, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus – each made their own attempts at shifting into their own series. Richards’ offering, “The Michael Richards Show,” lasted for a grand total of eight episodes, while Alexander has blown through two single season wonders: “Bob Patterson” (nine episodes) and “Listen Up” (22 episodes). At first, it looked like Louis-Dreyfus was going to succumb to the curse as well, given that her first attempt, NBC’s “Watching Ellie,” only made it for a dozen episodes. As it happens, it was a good thing that not enough people were watching “Ellie,” since its cancelation not only freed up Louis-Dreyfus’s co-star, Steve Carell ,to join “The Office,” but also gave her the chance to move over to CBS and begin “The New Adventures of Old Christine.”
Now in its fourth season, “Christine” has never been what you’d call a blockbuster hit, but it’s built a steady following over the course of its run. Although Season Two of the show was originally slated to be an Amazon exclusive (where it’s been available since June), someone over at Warner Home Video apparently decided that the masses should get a shot at it, too, so they’ve now expanded its release to everywhere else.
A bit of catch-up for those who haven’t checked out the show: Christine Campbell (Louis-Dreyfus) is a single mother who’s divorced and living with her son, Ritchie (Trevor Gagnon), and her brother, Matthew (Hamish Linklater). She maintains ties with her ex-husband, Richard (Clark Gregg), out of parental necessity, but things get a little dodgy between them when he starts dating a young and pretty thing named Christine (Emily Rutherfurd), henceforth to be referred to as New Christine. At the end of Season One, Old Christine kissed Richard – an event which resulted in New Christine breaking up with him – and as Season Two begins, Ritchie mistakenly believes that his parents have gotten back together, and the hijinks begin in earnest.
Actually, that confusion is straightened out before the closing credits of the season premiere, but the relationship between Richard and New Christine is strained throughout the season. Meanwhile, Christine quickly realizes that she just can’t maintain a romantic relationship with Richard, so she gets back to her quest to find a man, resulting in a brief guest-star arc from Scott Bakula (who seems perfect until it turns out that he’s actually New Christine’s father), an extremely funny turn from Dave Foley as a potential beau whose stomach betrays him on his date with Christine, and the return of Andy Richter as Stan, a character who’s funny enough in his own right to make you want to purchase Season One, where he makes his first appearance. It’s typical Christine, however, that she wants the one she can’t have: Ritchie’s teacher, Mr. Harris, played by Blair Underwood. She knows it’s wrong to even show an interest in Mr. Harris, since it’s established right off the bat that he can’t date the parent of a student, but Underwood pops up throughout the season, regularly assuring her that if he wasn’t Ritchie’s teacher, he’d totally want to date her. You will be unsurprised to learn that the writers wring quite a lot of comedy out of this.
What makes “The New Adventures of Old Christine” stand out from the crowd is that the characters don’t tend to be cookie-cutter. Ritchie’s kind of a dumb kid, often reminding you of a live-action version of Bobby Hill, and his uncle, Matthew, has a dry wit and a way with a blank-stare comeback that’s right up there with Jim Halpert. Additionally, the show provides Christine with a brilliant pair of nemeses – Marly (Tricia O’Kelley) and Lindsay (Alex Kapp Horner), whose kids go to the same school as Ritchie – who play off each other and deliver alternating insults to Christine with perfect timing.
Although it’s nothing new for the lead character in a sitcom to do stupid things, what’s notable about Christine is that she’s less stupid than just plain oblivious. She has no clue as to what’s hip, she doesn’t know anything about modern technology (in one episode, she gets busted for swiping something from a neighbor because it doesn’t occur to her that they have a nanny-cam), she clearly doesn’t remember most of what she learned in high school, and she’s ruled by her urges rather than her conscience. You don’t see that kind of reality in traditional sitcoms very often.
Despite Warner’s hesitation in offering Season Two of “The New Adventures of Old Christine” a wide release, it seems a safe bet to expect the 10-episode third season to emerge in the very near future. In the meantime, if you’ve never checked out the series before, then give it a shot. It ain’t “Seinfeld,” but if you liked Elaine Benes, you’ll still get a lot of laughs out of Christine Campbell.
Special Features: Not many, given that the show’s still in production. There are deleted scenes spread throughout the set, along with a gag reel that’s funnier than average, but that’s it.