Television

Is There Any Hope Left for a Good Sitcom?

The latest new network offerings suggest not. Also: a look at The Gifted.

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  • 'The Gifted'
    'The Gifted,' Fox

    9JKL. CBS. Monday, October 2, 8:30 p.m.

  • The Gifted. Fox. Monday, October 2, 9 p.m.
  • The Mayor. ABC. Tuesday, October 3, 9:30 p.m.
  • Kevin (Probably) Saves the World. ABC. Tuesday, October 3, 10 p.m.

Everybody from Jerry Seinfeld to Mel Brooks is saying comedy is dead, strangled in its sleep by political correctness. I'm not entirely convinced, but most of the new comedies of the TV season are on life support and need to have their plugs pulled in every sense of the phrase.

You start to get a sense of how bad the comedy problem is when, in a week when three sitcoms debut, the best of them is amiable piffle like ABC's The Mayor.

Brandon Michael Hall (lately of the oddball TBS millennial comedy Search Party) plays a rapper named Courtney Rose, whose career is going so well that he's still living with his mom at age 27.

Desperate to start some buzz, he runs for mayor of his small California hometown, and when the grown-up candidate badly flubs a debate, he wins. "Russia clearly tampered with the voting machines, right?" the puzzled Rose asks when he gets the news.

From there, the show turns into a hip-hop version of Capra-corn like Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, with the new mayor pursuing his mildly populist do-gooder agenda and defying any attempt by his staff to impose adulthood on him. When his chief of staff (Glee's Lea Michele) suggests making a push-pin chart of his program, he retorts, "No revolution in history has ever started with the words 'index cards.'"

Faintly charming and landing an occasional punchline like that one, The Mayor is somewhat more amusing than open-mic night at a college pub, but that's about as extravagant as the praise is going to get. And remember, this is the best of the bunch. It's a long tumble down an abyss to reach CBS' 9JKL, in which a divorced and jobless Mark Feuerstein moves home to live in an apartment sandwiched between his parents on one side and his brother's family on the other. On the show, family hijinx ensue; out in the audience, it's more like self-lobotomies with machetes.

Feuerstein, who has starred in an astounding number of awful sitcoms (including but not limited to 2002's epochally awful Good Morning, Miami, in which a Cuban-American news anchor was always saying something like "Leesen, meester prrroducer man…"), is also the producer on this one.

It consists mainly of nonstop sexual jokes, mostly about seeing the nether parts of loved ones. 9JKL's target demo appears to be people who have seen Feuerstein's testicles, would like to see them, or wish they hadn't. And for variety, there are also a few jokes about the testicles of Elliot Gould, who plays his father.

To be fair, 9JKL does raise some important questions: principally, what bridge is Gould living under that he had to take this show?

ABC's Kevin (Probably) Saves the World, by contrast, is relatively testicle-free. (Though all bets are probably off during the Nielsen sweeps in May.) Unfortunately, the show is lacking not just gonads but an original premise, a credible cast, a watchable screenplay or any discernible reason to exist.

I should interject here that ABC is actually calling Kevin "light drama," which sounds a lot better than "tepid comedy," which is what it is.

Quibble over the categorization all you like, but that won't make Kevin any less of a chore to watch. A variant of the tasked-by-an-angel genre that stretches back to It's a Wonderful Life and perhaps beyond, the show is theologically unglued and emotionally dopey.

Jason Ritter (who, ironically, had a key role in one of the best of the God Squad shows, Joan Of Arcadia), plays Kevin Finn, a busted-and-bounced hedge fund swine who, after botching a suicide attempt, has come home to live with his widowed twin sister Amy (JoAnna Garcia Swisher) and her rebel-without-a-clue teenager, Reese (Chloe East, Ice).

His plans for a prolonged wallow in narcissistic misery, however, are cut short by the arrival (on a meteor; wings are apparently oh-so-20th century in millennial heaven) of an angel named Yvette (Kimberly Hébert Gregory, Devious Maids). She warns him that he's the last of the current generation of 36 Righteous Souls, without whom humanity loses its capacity for hope. He's got to start recruiting, fast.

As silly on its face as this premise is (a suicidal ex-hedge-fund manager as a spiritual leader might be found on Planet Michael Milken, I suppose, but seems unlikely on this one), I found it thoroughly convincing, for my own capacity for hope had expired about 15 minutes into the episode. With a script as overdrawn as a Hallmark card and a lightweight cast whose idea of soul-threatening angst is putting on a face like the one you get when the pumpkin-flavored fro-yo runs out at Pinkberry's, Kevin's world can go nova as far as I'm concerned.

The best laugh I got out of any of these shows came from Fox's paranoid comic-book series The Gifted, which is sooooo not a comedy. It's a paranoid tale of a dystopian America in which a fascist government is at war with mutants who have psychic powers. Naturally, the most-played song on the jukebox at the local mutie bar is "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood."

Set in the X-Men universe, The Gifted seems to suggest that Fox may eventually change its name to The Comic Book Channel. With the Batman-origins Gotham and the Satan-as-crime-buster Lucifer already on the air, The Gifted makes three big Fox investments in comics-derived series in three years.

This one has a moderately interesting premise, the awakening of a mid-level bureaucrat (Stephen Moyer, the vampire-in-chief of True Blood) in the anti-mutant security services—which operates under the aegis of the chillingly named Amended Patriot Act—when his own kids starting showing signs of psychic power. He seeks help from the same mutant underground that, until now, he's been ruthlessly oppressing.

But The Gifted is driven by action, not character development, and it soon settles into a humdrum series of cheapjack versions of set pieces from Carrie. Don't get too excited; whether through budget shortfalls or fears of rousing the FCC programming police from their deathbed, there are no exploding heads or even a pig-blood shower. Such a pity.

Footnote: The world mutant headquarters turns out to be located in Georgia. Tough break, Florida. Better luck next time.

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