Thursday, February 7, 2013

Take It Or Leave It Television Volume 1: Mad About You Season 1 On DVD

The Good: Charming, Decent guest starring bits, Decent acting
The Bad: No DVD bonus features, Seems to need the laugh track
The Basics: Mad About You Season 1 gives nothing the syndicated version of the show doesn’t have, but is a good enough romantic comedy that television fans will find something to like.

In the history of the sitcom, I can think of several shows that I watched fairly religiously while they were on the air, but I have absolutely no need to buy on DVD. Arguably at the top of that list would be Mad About You, a show I caught in college in syndication and recently rewatched the first season of on DVD. In rewatching the first, I was struck by how remarkably, overwhelmingly average the show truly was and how little it appealed to me now. For sure, I enjoyed it; Mad About You is a sitcom which peaks early and then dies a slow, long death. So, returning to season one, was like returning to the glory days of a good friendship.

The other thing that stood out for me with rewatching the first season of Mad About You on DVD was how dependent the show seemed to be on the laugh track. My appreciation of shows like Sports Night (reviewed here!) where the show was thrown off by the laugh track (the pacing of the verbal jokes resisted the laugh track) and the success of the humor of animated shows like The Simpsons (season eight reviewed here!) made the laugh track on this live-action sitcom stand out and pretty much scream at me now. In fact, it was weird watching a show where performers waited for the laughs to die before moving on and it struck me as wholly inorganic in this season.

Newlyweds Paul and Jamie Buchman – a film student/director and a producer – are living in New York City (Manhattan) where they work to make time for one another and live through the foibles that result from their miscommunications. This starts with a night alone where both Jamie and Paul forget to cancel prior engagements they had and instead try to squeeze everyone into one night. Because their marriage is still new, they fumble through things like their first major purchase together (in this case buying a sofa) and Paul getting rid of his original apartment which he had only sublet (in this case to Kramer from Seinfeld).

As the season goes on, Paul and Jamie stumble through an extended visit by Jamie’s parents, a maid who has a thing for Paul and Jamie getting annoyed when Paul is not jealous over the new housepainter, who happens to be an ex-boyfriend of Jamie’s. The two struggle when one of Paul’s documentaries is rejected on the same day Jamie gets the funding to produce her next project and they come together sadly when their friends Fran and Mark split up while visiting their apartment. But as their first anniversary rushes closer, it is clear the two are very much in love.

Mad About You is a romantic comedy about love after marriage and it works fairly well. Jamie gets nervous, Paul is levelheaded, but talks off on weird tangents, but it soon becomes apparent that the bond between the two is exceptionally strong. Mad About You in its first season is more often than not a standard romantic comedy which follows a formula where Jamie and Paul have a plan, something comes up and they scramble to fix the problem. They do not so much learn and grow and ironically, the only two real long-term consequences that come out of the first season’s episodes are the split between Mark and Fran and the coming together of Paul and Jamie (which happens midseason as a flashback episode).

This is not to say the show is without charm. It has charm and it even has some originality to it. On Valentine’s Day, Paul and Jamie find themselves locked in their bathroom together and they bond while surviving on antacids and painting toenails (“Love Among The Tiles”). But more often than not, episodes are like “Sunday Times” where Paul and Jamie try to figure out what they might do on a Sunday together before visiting friends and the end of the day decide for them. In the end, the viewer ends up feeling somewhat cheated because nothing truly happens.

The show succeeds as much as it does, then, because of the verbal humor. Paul is a funny guy, played by Paul Reiser. Jamie, played by Helen Hunt, acts more often than not as a straightman to Paul’s absurd gesticulations and her humor is quieter. They both play well off Anne Ramsay’s Lisa (Jamie’s sister), who stops by frequently and has a dry sense of humor and a darker worldview.

Like most good sitcoms, what separates Mad About You from every other sitcom on the air are the characters. In the first season, the principle characters are:

Paul Buchman – A film director and creator, he makes documentaries. He works hard, but is most accomplished with keeping Jamie happy. For Paul, it was love at first sight and now he is working to make the rest of his dreams come true. He finds it difficult to take orders from Jamie when she has the chance to hire him for a project,

Jamie Buchman – Paul’s wife, she is quietly neurotic about change and surprises. She likes things planned, is very organized and gets stressed when things diverge from the plan. Paul has a calming influence on her. She is more amused than annoyed when the maid falls for Paul, but is irked when Paul does not get jealous about her ex-boyfriend painting the apartment,

Lisa Stemple – Jamie’s sister, she is vocally neurotic and takes a while to warm to Paul. She has a friendship with Selby that takes a turn for the uncomfortable on Thanksgiving. She is happy to help Jamie look good for their parents for money (by making herself look bad to them),

Fran Devanow – Paul and Jamie’s friend, she is the controlling wife of Mark who is very unhappy most of the time,

Mark Devanow – Fran’s milquetoast husband, he is a dentist who she basically has to program. Unable to keep her happy, he leaves,

Ira Buchman – Paul’s cousin, he is somewhat shifty, but a generally good guy. He’s friendly, outgoing and he tends to get Paul into more trouble than he keeps him out of,

And Jay Selby – He shows up for a few episodes, comes to Thanksgiving and disappears from the series.

The show features a hilarious recurring role for Steven Wright (Warren the camera man) in the latter half of the season, but largely the show it tight on Paul, Jamie, Fran, Lisa and Mark the first season.

Unfortunately, in this season, there are no DVD bonus features, so it is tough to recommend this as opposed to just catching it in syndication. There’s just enough charm to it for this season, though. Anyone who is looking for a very typical, generally feel-good romantic comedy will find something to enjoy in the first season of Mad About You.

For other situational comedies, please check out my reviews of:
Ally McBeal
Dharma & Greg - Season 1


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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