Complete First Season
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Reviewed by Will Harris
hen Bullz-Eye gave the 2008 fall season the once-over, I put together a list of new series that I was most excited to see unfold. Looking back at the list now, the first two inclusions hold up as valid choices, but once you get past “Fringe” and “The Mentalist,” things begin to get a bit sketchy – like, to the point where six of the remaining ten entries didn’t make it past the first few episodes, let alone an entire season. (I still say “The Ex List” would’ve had a lot of potential if CBS hadn’t argued with series creator Diane Ruggiero about the show’s direction so much that she quit before it had even premiered.) Still, I take a little bit of pride in the fact that at least one of my sitcom selections managed to survive, even if it was the one which seemed least likely to do so.
At the time, I wrote…
Granted, CBS’s track record for sitcoms is hit or miss, and for every “How I Met Your Mother” and “Big Bang Theory,” there’s a “Welcome to the Captain” or “The Class.” So why is “Gary Unmarried” on our list? Because I think Jay Mohr’s funny. Obviously, it helps that I’ve thought Paula Marshall was cute ever since she was on “Spin City,” and you can never go wrong with Ed Begley, Jr., but the reality is that I heard Jay Mohr was getting a sitcom, and my first thought was, “I’d watch that.” So don’t let me down, Jay, or you’re never going to hear the end of it.
You got lucky, Mohr, but from the looks of things, it wasn’t for lack of CBS trying to screw with your perfectly serviceable sitcom.
Gary Brooks (Mohr) is a recently-divorced owner of a house-painting business who’s experiencing the single life for the first time in 15 years, but as a father of two who’s forced to maintain some semblance of a civil relationship with his ex-wife, Allison (Paula Marshall), trying to date is like trying to traverse a mine field, especially when he’s foolishly agreed with not to see anyone seriously for awhile. The timing couldn’t be worse, as what could’ve been a mere one-night stand with a woman whose house he was painting – Vanessa, played by Jaime King – turns out to have the potential to be something more serious. As is prone to happen in sitcoms, things immediately get more awkward in the series’ first episode when Gary learns that Allison is engaged to their former marriage counselor, Dr. Walter Crandall (Ed Begley, Jr.).
Fortunately, both parties agree to allow each other to see their new significant others, and thus begins “Gary Unmarried” in earnest.
Well, sort of, anyway.
From the beginning of Season One of “Gary Unmarried” to the end, not a heck of a lot of the show’s ingredients manage to stay consistent; there are 20 episodes here, and by the halfway point, neither Vanessa nor Dr. Crandall are a regular part of the show any longer. One presumes that the goal was to try to figure out what worked and what didn’t, and while you can appreciate that giving Gary the chance to play the field opens up the storylines for future episodes in a big way, Begley’s appearances tended to be highlights, so his loss was considerable. (He does, at least, turn up again in the season finale.) Various family members wander in and out of episodes in an attempt to fill the comedic void, but while they present excellent guest star opportunities for Max Gail (Gary’s dad), Martin Mull (Allison’s dad), Jane Curtin (Allison’s mom), Matthew Lillard (Allison’s brother), and Rob Riggle (Gary’s brother), the only real familial stability comes through Gary and Allison’s kids, Tom (Ryan Malgarini) and Louise (Kathryn Newton), who – amazingly enough – manage to make it all the way to the end of the season. That’s probably because their storylines tend to produce some of the funniest and most relatable material. (Even if you’ve never been married, you’ve still been a kid.)
As you’d expect, given the title of the series, the predominant thrust of “Gary Unmarried” revolves around the family relationship in the wake of Gary’s divorce, and the show spends as much time as possible trying to utilize the chemistry between Mohr and Marshall. It’s a wise move, but it also makes an event in the season finale totally and utterly unsurprising. Oh, hell, it’s not like it’s a spoiler at this point: what I’m referring to is the fact that Gary and Allison sleep together. Basically, you know it’s coming as soon as Dr. Crandall departs from the series, so you’re really just biding your time ‘til it happens. The fact that they couldn’t even save it for the second season, however, seemed like a desperate move on the part of the writers, and the fact that the series’ showrunners bailed out soon thereafter more or less confirmed that to be true.
It’s like I said when “Gary Unmarried” premiered: I think Jay Mohr’s funny, which makes it easy for me to find this series funny. Not hysterical, mind you. Just funny. You might not be able to count on “Gary Unmarried” when it comes to creative consistency, but at least you can count on it for a few easy laughs.
Special Features: Like a lot of the DVDs from ABC Studios, “Gary Unmarried: The Complete First Season” is a little bottom-heavy, burying all of its bonus material on its final disc, but there are a couple of nice inclusions. In addition to the inevitable blooper reel, there are a pair of backstage featurettes – “The Chemistry of Comedy” (“Join the cast and crew for an all-access tour”) and “Tuesday on the Set with Jay” (“Spend a day on the set with Jay Mohr”) – as well as “Planet Begley,” a look into what sort of eco-friendly shenanigans were brought to the “Gary Unmarried” set by co-star Ed Begley, Jr.