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Reviewed by Will Harris
uality control for sitcoms on the Fox network is notoriously dodgy. For proof, look no further than the first casualty of the 2008 fall season, “Do Not Disturb,” a series so woefully unfunny that it should never have gotten on the air in the first place. Fox also has a real problem with canceling the sitcoms that are funny (“Arrested Development”), but giving umpteen chances to the ones that are about as pedestrian as they come (“’Til Death”).
In the case of “Back to You,” however, the problem is a little more complicated.
On paper, it looked great. Take one of the most revered sitcom stars of the modern era (Kelsey Grammer, “Frasier”), team him with one of the most recognizable female faces of recent TV comedy (Patricia Heaton, “Everybody Loves Raymond”), and make them local TV news anchors with a tangled romantic history. Fill out the ensemble with a neurotic news director (Josh Gad), a sexy weather girl (Ayda Field), a hapless reporter (Ty Burrell), and a sports anchor who’s an artifact from the swinging ‘70s (Fred Willard). Lastly, for good measure, bring in the great Jim Burrows to direct every single episode.
So what happened?
In truth, the only problem with “Back to You” was that people went in expecting it to be as good as the best episodes of “Frasier” and “Everybody Loves Raymond” combined. Oh, they might not have done so consciously, but it’s apparent that the expectations for the series were thoroughly unrealistic. When you go back and watch the optimistically titled “Back to You: Season 1” (there ain’t no Season 2, folks), you’ll discover that it’s in no way a bad sitcom.
Chuck Darling (Grammer) was once the hot-shot news anchor for Pittsburgh station WURG, but he worked his way up the ranks and made it all the way to L.A., where he promptly mouthed off about a fellow anchor when he didn’t realize his mike was on. Next stop: back to Pittsburgh, where he’s re-teamed with his old cohort, Kelly Carr (Heaton). Not only is Kelly less than thrilled about Chuck trying to pick up where he left off, but we find out that the two of them had a one night stand immediately before he left Pittsburgh. Unbeknownst to Chuck, that night produced a daughter named Gracie. Before the pilot episode is over, Chuck has done the math and worked out that he’s Gracie’s father. But the young lady serves as a plot device for the remainder of the show’s run, first when Kelly is hesitant to tell Gracie who her father is, and then when they have to decide if and when they’re going to tell the rest of the world.
That’s about as deep as the series gets, really, though it must be said that both Grammer and Heaton do manage to demonstrate their acting chops when they’re playing the more serious scenes involving their characters’ daughter. Otherwise, however, the show feels like a blend between “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and “WKRP in Cincinnati,” which is to say that it’s very much a traditional sitcom, one that proudly announces before each episode that it was filmed before a live studio audience. Fred Willard continues his ability to make any line funny, if only by virtue of his delivery, but Ty Burrell is definitely the breakout star of the series as newsman Gary Crezyzewski, a guy who can’t catch a break to save his life. As for the others in the ensemble, Josh Gad’s pitifully loveable portrayal of Ryan is expanded enough throughout the year and gains more potential with each episode, but while Ayda Field is smoking hot, the character of Montana Diaz Herrera never evolves beyond a caricature.
It was somewhat shocking when Fox didn’t renew “Back to You” for a second season, if only because one would’ve figured they’d let a show with such a great cast get a chance to build momentum. But having watched all 17 episodes of the series, that shock has turned into legitimate depression. Granted, no one’s going to look back at the show and call it one of the greatest single-season sitcoms of all time, but it’s a pleasant and likeable little series -- and it’s sure as hell funnier than “Do Not Disturb.”
Special Features: There are no audio commentaries to be had, which is a mild disappointment. But it must be said that the pair of featurettes included on the set (“Behind the Scenes with ‘Back to You’” and “This Just In”), are both extremely well-done. They are chock full of interview footage that was clearly done throughout the season and not just as part of the electronic press kit that preceded the series’ premiere. While the contents of the former are self-explanatory, the latter spotlights clips from throughout the show’s run, while detailing how much of the comedy was derived from actual local newscasters from around the country. (“Thank you, YouTube,” say the writers.) Lastly, there’s a gag reel, which is as funny as any other such collection, though the money shot, as it were, comes from Grammer’s perfect – and highly unexpected – delivery of the phrase, “You’re shitting me!”