Friday, February 22, 2013

More Contrived, More Mundane, Mad About You Season Three Is Just Good Enough.

The Good: Good initial laughs, Good character development
The Bad: Mundane plots, No DVD bonus features, No great acting.
The Basics: Very average, Mad About You in its third season takes sitcom standard plots and does them just well enough to be remembered and recommended.

The third season of a television show is usually a turning point. In the best shows, it seems like the third season is where the kinks are usually ironed out and the series begins to live up to its potential. In more mediocre shows, the third season seems to be where the writers stagnate and fall back on the standards of the genre (whatever genre the show is) to keep the series going. As I make my way through Mad About You (season one reviewed here, season two reviewed here!), I reached Mad About You Season Three and realized two things. The first is that this was my favorite season when I was watching the show as it progressed and the second was that it was stiflingly average (at best). Now on DVD, the third season of Mad About You is strangely disappointing and it came to a cointoss for me to give it the soft "recommend" I ultimately did.

Mad About You is a romantic comedy series with the married couple Paul and Jamie Buchman, who live in New York City. The show is mostly episodic and in the third season, the circumstances they find themselves in seem far more mundane than original. This season, for example, has the sitcom standard plots of: crazy Thanksgiving where the family pet eats the turkey, the lost trying to find an old place episode, and the reluctant family member gets stuck eulogizing a dead person they truly didn't know. The thing is, Mad About You does all of those plots without any real flair or uniqueness (by contrast, I recall laughing each and every time to Martin Crane finding the store that sold him his beloved shoes when Frasier did the "trying to find an old place" episode).

In the third season of Mad About You, Jamie returns to school after she and Paul have a disastrous trip to New Jersey. The building the Buchmans live in plans to expand, setting off more conflicts with their stuffy neighbors and Jamie delivers a eulogy for her dead uncle. Parties turn into disasters, from Fran's birthday party to Thanksgiving to Paul's annual cursed birthday and Paul's father hands the store down to the next generation. And shortly after Fran reveals she has gone back to the job she and Jamie used to share, Jamie starts her own public relations firm.

But Jamie's newfound freedom and employment cause tensions between her and Paul, from financial to trying to share the same work space. As Paul struggles to find work - a problematic endeavor when he does get projects, like a fifteen minute unedited PBS special - Jamie picks up the slack and the two work to make more time with one another. The Buchmans have to pose as Paul's parents, which leads to a very odd situation where Paul and Jamie make up completely different stories for everyone at a resort and Jamie encounters multiple ex's. Rather oddly, the season not only illustrates the week before Jamie and Paul got married (Mad About You, Parts 1 and 2) and what would have happened had they never met (the season finale "Up In Smoke").

Mad About You in the third season seems very sedate, with the humor being very safe and often predictable. Most of the plots involve the Buchmans going through a fairly normal day, having Paul make a few notes of observational humor and then the main plot turning slightly when the expectations for what was going to happen with their day askew. There is a repetitive sensibility to the third season, both for those who have seen the prior seasons and those who are just watching the third season. It holds up less spectacularly over multiple viewings than I initially recalled.

That said, the characters are likable on Mad About You and the third season does have some interesting moments for them. In the third season, the primary characters are:

Paul Buchman - who hits a dry spell with work until he gets movies, documentaries and competes for a grant. He is in love with Jamie, his wife for (as the season progresses) three years. He is bothered when his father prepares to give up his sporting good's store, but not to him, and he tries to keep Jamie and their dog, Murray, happy,

Jamie Buchman - Her quest to better herself with a new degree quickly gets sublimated when she becomes her own boss and starts her own public relations firm. Enjoying being in charge and discovering she is real good at the job, she hires her friend Fran and one of her clients pushes her together with an ex-boyfriend who has made her into a villain in his comic book series! Jamie tries to get her uncle buried in the winner's circle at the horse track and she argues with Paul about who is better in love. She is also flabbergasted when she swaps purses with her sister, Lisa,

Lisa - Jamie's sister, she is chronically disorganized and flighty. She becomes organized when she ends up with Jamie's purse, though. She has more of a supporting role this season,

Fran - Jamie's best friend and then employee, she has a flirtation with baseball star Sloopy Dunbar. She loans the Buchmans her car to try to help them get on a romantic getaway,

and Ira - Paul's cousin and friend, he is something of a player. He has the in at the track Jamie needs and he becomes the heir apparent to his uncle's store. He hooks the Buchman's building up with illegal cable and finds himself in a battle of wills with a visitor to the Buchman's apartment when neither trusts the other alone there. His ex-wife returns, this time incredibly rich.

In the third season of Mad About You, the actors were in their stride, but they were pretty much there because they had become perfectly comfortable with the characters they were portraying. As a result, there are no truly fantastic performances, just a sense that the actors know who their characters are and what they are doing. This comes into focus in the flashback two-parter Mad About You where both Paul Reiser and Helen Hunt play Paul and Jamie with virtually the same mannerisms and comfort level as they have in the primary narrative. John Pankow, Leila Kenzle and Anne Ramsay all give solid supporting performances, but again nothing that truly stands out as great acting beyond how they initially took on their characters.

On DVD, Mad About You Season Three is another spartan comedy series and there are no bonus features, making it not substantively different from what one would find for the show in syndication.

Ultimately, there are laughs to be had in Mad About You Season Three, but the show is more mundane and obvious as a situational comedy than it is truly special. But, in the pantheon of all comedy, there is just enough to recommend this season.

For the third season of other comedies, please check out my reviews of:
Friends - Season Three
30 Rock - The Complete Third Season
Frasier - Season 3


For other television reviews, please visit my Television Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2013, 2010 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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