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Reviewed by Will Harris
or a network which devotes a huge amount of its time to classic sitcoms and has such a huge amount of fun during their annual awards ceremony, it’s hard to believe that it took until 2010 for TV Land to get around to creating its own sitcom. (Not that there weren’t plenty of laughs to be had from their awful reality series, “The Cougar,” but those generally weren’t intentional.) “Hot in Cleveland” brings together four familiar television faces – Valerie Bertinelli, Jane Leeves, Wendie Malick, and the omnipresent Betty White – and, taking a page from a playbook of Ms. White’s past, attempts to create a 21st century take on “The Golden Girls.” While the show doesn’t come anywhere close to hitting those kinds of comedic heights, it certainly demonstrates how far a show can coast on a cast’s charisma and the nostalgia these women inspire in viewers.
When “Hot in Cleveland” begins, the setting is an airplane, with a trio of single women embarking on a trip to Paris: Melanie (Bertinelli) is divorced and hoping to find happiness in The City of Love, and she’s being accompanied on her journey by her friends Joy (Leeves), a Hollywood beautician, and Victoria (Malick), a veteran soap opera actress still dealing with the cancellation of her long-running series, “Edge of Tomorrow.” When the plane has to make an emergency landing in Cleveland, the ladies learn that their personal assets, if you will, are far more appreciated in Ohio than in southern California, and they make a snap decision to stay awhile and see what develops. They soon develop a bond with the elderly Elka (White), and the next thing you know, you’ve got yourself a sitcom!
Making the comparison between “Hot in Cleveland” and “The Golden Girls” is all too easy given that both shows feature four single women who are 50+ in age and still raring to go on the dating circuit, but that basic template is really about as close as the two shows get. As “Hot in Cleveland” continues, it may turn into a series where you really come to know and love the characters, but as it stands right now, it’s the love viewers have for the actresses’ previous shows that keeps you tuning in, since each of them is playing some approximation of an earlier character. Joy’s a bit flighty, Victoria’s living on past glories – even Elka comes across like a hybrid of Sue Anne Nivens and Rose Nylund. It’s so good to see all of these actresses getting another shot at television, though, that you don’t really care. The same goes for the guest stars on “Hot in Cleveland,” who to date have included Hal Linden (“Barney Miller”), Tim Conway (“The Carol Burnett Show”), Amy Yasbeck (“Wings”), Wayne Knight (“Seinfeld”) and John Schneider (“The Dukes of Hazzard”).
I just took another look at the last sentence of that first paragraph. Damn, that reads harshly, and yet, I can’t argue with the content. “Hot in Cleveland” has some laughs, even managing to toss out a couple of legitimate knee-slappers per episode, but unlike its stars, it has no identity of its own. If it doesn’t find one soon, it’s hard to say how long the mere nostalgia factor will keep viewers tuning in.
Special Features: Don’t get too excited when you look on the back of the box and see seven pieces of bonus material listed. It’s not like it’s false advertising or anything, but some of them are pretty darned short – like, say, Victoria’s Japanese “Lady Pants” commercial, which even at full length isn’t that long. Still, something’s better than nothing, and even short featurettes like “How’d They Get So Hot? Wardrobe on the Set,” “Set Tour,” and “We Love Our Age!” still prove worth watching at least once. The bloopers are particularly funny, if only to see how rarely Betty White breaks up even as everyone around her is in full-on giggle mode. There’s also the original full-length pilot episode for the show, but what viewers will really enjoy is the pilot for the yet-to-premiere new TV Land series, “Retired at 35.” It looks to be on about the same level as “Hot in Cleveland,” for better or worse, but if you’re a fan of one, you’ll no doubt enjoy the other, too.