Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Television Flop Ned And Stacey Makes A DVD Flop!

The Good: Inexpensive, Moments of delightfully cruel humor
The Bad: Mostly not funny, Unlikable characters, Mediocre (at best) acting, Predictable.
The Basics: Despite a pretty decent cast, Ned And Stacey - The Complete First Season is just another baffling DVD release of a mediocre comedy that is more cruel than funny.

Some things take fortitude, time and a sense that it's worthwhile to review a product. And then there are those of us who will suffer through miserable products just to review something. It was with that sense that I picked up and watched Ned And Stacey - The Complete First Season on DVD.

As part of FOX's seemingly endless attempt to find programs that could hold an audience like Married . . . With Children and The Simpsons, it created Ned And Stacey a typical situation comedy that does what few other series's before or since have managed to do quite a well; it shows that even with a talented cast, you can make a terrible show. Even with Greg Germann, Thomas Hayden Church, and a very young looking Debra Messing, Ned And Stacey is just plain terrible.

Ned Dorsey is trudging through his job desperate to find a way to get ahead when he realizes that most people who are married get the promotions that he feels he deserves. Stacey Dorsey is a journalist who is desperate to move out of her parents' house and when she sees Ned's apartment, she falls in love with the flat. Despite the fact that the two cannot stand one another, they see a union between them as the best possible way to achieve their goals, so they marry. Stacey gets out of her parents' house and Ned begins to get ahead at work.

What follows is their adventures as they navigate keeping up the appearance of being married while they strive to achieve their goals and find people better than their legal spouse to be with. Ned spends much of his time with his best friend and (as luck would have it, suddenly his) brother-in-law, Rico. Eric (who Ned refers to by the nickname) is married to Amanda, Stacey's sister and best friend. Things get complicated for the quartet because Amanda loathes Ned and this often leads the two to openly fight with one another.

And while the concept may seem momentarily interesting, it soon falls into the habits of the standard sitcom and the concept drives many of the plots. So, as a result, there are episodes where Ned and Stacey relay fake wedding stories, cheat on one another (they are legally married, so when one seeks sex elsewhere, technically it is cheating despite it being a loveless arrangement), and buy a bed together. Ned usurps Stacey's job prospects by being more talented than her in her field. And, of course, misunderstandings arise among friends and acquaintances, like a client thinking Ned is gay when he realizes Ned and Stacey do not share a bedroom.

Yes, it's pretty standard FOX marital material. There's an unhappy couple, lots of sarcasm (recalling of course that sarcasm is different from irony or being facetious because the intent is to hurt another), a laugh track that telegraphs everything and situations that pretty much write their own solutions. But mostly, it's just a collection of four people being mean to one another. Granted, Ned is the most consistently cruel, but the premise sets itself up to alternate between being unkind (at best) to one another or outright, shamefully mean to each other. Life is too short to watch on television what exists far too often in reality and here it is so contrived as to be laughable that the project ever received a green light.

After sitting and watching all twenty-four episodes, I'm at a loss to say what I actually watched. The comedy was so standard that the show repeats itself and uses the reverse premise to fill episodes. So, for example, it does not take long before the sham marriage begins to wear on Stacey and she meets a nice guy who she would like to be with. So, she has a minor dilemma about cheating on her husband (in-name-only). A few episodes later, Ned realizes he might be able to get ahead by cheating on Stacey and sleeping his way to the top. And a few episodes after that, Stacey meets another guy . . . The point is, the plot is so predictable and it was obvious that the series had to go there at some point. It would be utterly ridiculous to think that Ned and Stacey would loathe one another and NOT look for companionship outside their "marriage," but how quickly the series got to the point that they used the plot and how many times they reused it in just the first season is disappointing at best, baffling at worst.

Of course, decent characters can save even a lame-concept sitcom. Unfortunately for Ned And Stacey, this series does not even have that. The quartet of regulars in the first season includes:

Ned - A raging egomaniac with a mild case of obsessive-compulsive disorder, he defines self-centered. With his dry wit and underlying meanness, he makes little effort to understand Stacey and her problems and shows little compassion for his best friend, as well. He does manage to have moments of softness, but they usually end in a punchline and no genuine sense that he had grown,

Stacey - Ned's hot wife who wanted nothing more than to get out of her parents' house and ended up married to Ned, whom she does not love. She has some talent for journalism (she has a degree in it), and is as optimistic as Ned is cynical. Her sister is her best friend and she spends as much time with her to avoid Ned as possible,

Amanda - Stacey's sister, Eric's husband, she hates Ned and does what she can to sabotage the relationships between Ned and Stacey and Ned and Eric. Often, she exerts a strong pull on Eric to get him to avoid Ned. She is a real estate agent and spends much of her time angry,

and Eric - Amanda's husband, "Rico" to Ned, he is a mild-mannered guy who is walked on by Ned and Amanda. He is an accountant at the advertising firm he and Ned work at and he's pretty bland. What drives him and Ned together is never entirely clear.

The problem with the characters, in addition to being blandly written "types" is that they do not come alive and they do not challenge the actors portraying them. So, for example, Greg Germann, who was just great on Ally McBeal as Fish, plays Eric as a browbeaten guy with no real differentiation between him and the similar character he played on the first season of Ellen. In other words, we've seen it from him before.

Debra Messing is all right as Stacey, though she seems to rely more on her looks and innate cheerfulness to get her through than anything particularly compelling in her performance. Indeed, the opening bit where she and Thomas Hayden Church, in character, lay out the premise to the show illustrates the entirety of the range she utilizes on this series. She has a niche and she works that rut for all its worth.

But the real disappointment for me is Thomas Hayden Church. I like him a great deal and I've enjoyed him in many things. He was underutilized and CG-ed out for much of Spider-man 3 (reviewed here!) and I remember feeling that was a grave disappointment. The problem is that here he has one schtick; a deadpan, dead-eyed sarcasm that he plays with a consistency that borders on monotony. He has the capacity to do so much more and here his talents are wasted as an offensive jerk with no real redeeming qualities.

Ned And Stacey - The Complete First Season on DVD is as baffling to me as the motivation between releasing Dharma & Greg - Season 1 to the permanent medium. Was this just a desperate attempt to try to cash in while Thomas Hayden Church was performing in one of the biggest films of the year? Was it an attempt to synergize with Debra Messing's Will & Grace DVD releases? Who knows? What I can say is that all 24 episodes of the first season look and sound good on the three disc set. There is a commentary track on the pilot episode (by the creator of the series) and there is a decent-sized featurette that includes participation from most of the cast. Indeed, given that there is not much one can do with sitcoms in terms of DVD bonus features, this ends up being surprisingly adequate for the DVD release and sucks it up just enough to save it from complete and utter panning.

But it's not enough to even come close enough to recommending this. It's insulting to the intelligence of viewers and it is insulting to the characters in a way that suggests a sickness to enjoy watching it performed. Fortunately, the participants in it all went on to do other things that redeemed them for this grave cinematic injustice.

For other shows that originally aired on FOX, please check out my reviews of:
Family Guy Presents: It’s A Trap!
Glee - Season Two, Volume One
Fringe - Season Two
Arrested Development
The Lone Gunmen
The X-Files
The Adventures Of Brisco County Jr.


For other television reviews, please be sure to visit my index page on the subject by clicking here!

© 2011, 2008 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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