Friday, November 11, 2016

Shows We Don't (Traditionally) Admit To Watching (Or Liking), Vol. 1 - Just Shoot Me!

The Good: Funny, Interesting Characters, Good cast
The Bad: Light on DVD bonus features, Intrusive laugh track
The Basics: When Maya Gallo is forced to work for her father's fashion magazine, she comes in to make big changes, only to be met by resistance by the eccentric staff in the first two seasons of Just Shoot Me!

So, as I have been eagerly rewatching Veronica Mars (reviewed here!), I continue to find myself impressed by actor Enrico Colantoni. Colantoni plays Keith Mars on the show and it was his next steady work following his work on Just Shoot Me! Just Shoot Me! was an NBC comedy, now on DVD with the complete first and second season bundled together, which on its surface was the vehicle for David Spade, post-Saturday Night Live, post-dumb film career. Fortunately for viewers, Spade's role is minimized early in the second season as the writers and producers realized that the real talents on the show were Laura San Giacomo and Enrico Colantoni, with George Segal and Wendie Malick trumping Spade as well.

Poor David Spade, but it does make for good television and it is one of the surprises I've found on DVD that has lived up to being worthwhile to watch and even own. Like NewsRadio (reviewed here!), the first season was far too short to warrant a full DVD set, so the first and second season were put together for the DVD release. The three discs in this set cover all thirty-one episodes from those seasons.

For those unfamiliar with Just Shoot Me!, the half-hour sitcom happens largely at the offices of Blush Magazine, a Cosmopolitan-type beauty magazine featuring supermodels and articles on healthy, style and beauty. Scenes are broken up by an image of a cover of Blush which features hints at what is coming next in the storyline, much the way the title cards on Frasier set up moods on that show. Yes, that might be the only time in the history of television that Just Shoot Me! was compared to Frasier!

Opening with intrepid investigative reporter Maya Gallo being fired from a television station, she soon finds herself in dire straits and desperate for a job. This leads Maya to Blush, which is owned by her father, Jack, where she quickly lands a job writing and aiding with editorial decisions around the magazine. This raises the ire of fashion editor and washed-up model Nina and the somewhat chauvinistic photographer Elliot. Moreover, Maya's presence complicates the relationship between Jack and his personal assistant, a sycophant named Dennis. As Dennis and the others adapt to having a feminist aboard the decidedly unfeminist Blush, hilarity ensues.

In the first and second seasons, Maya arrives and attempts to shake things up at Blush only to run into obstacles everywhere she turns. She overcomes being distracted by the setting (one of Jack's plans to keep her from changing the magazine), attempts to throw a party for Nina and everyone inadvertently gets drugged by candy Jack brings back from China. As well, in these seasons, Dennis dates one of Elliot's models and ends up in a cage, Maya tries to prove looks influence the ability to get a good job, Nina flirts with a window washer with disastrous results, Nina and Elliot feud over tickets to King Lear in London, and Maya spends the night in the sewer trying to get a newsworthy scoop. Nina's famous bikini gets put on display in a basement, Jack tries to resolve his differences with the man with whom he started Blush and Elliot tries to get a better apartment by having Maya pose as his wife.

This is, in many ways, a fairly standard office sitcom, but it still manages to make itself feel fresh, mostly through the character interactions and the speed of the conversations. For sure, this would have been a far better series without the laugh track (I loathe that!) but it makes good use of its strengths throughout the season, mixing riotous obvious humor (the resolution to "Nina's Bikini" for example is so funny that the image is indelibly burned into my mind and - seriously - whenever I think of it it causes me to smile) and heartfelt emotions (the emotional complications that arise in "The Kiss" set up a whole future arc with the two characters involved). Just Shoot Me! is a surprise only in that it takes a rather standard set of conditions - the office sitcom has very much been "done," not the least of which by NBC's own NewsRadio - and makes it feel new by dressing it up with a wonderful cast and interesting characters.

To better understand the show, it helps to know who the characters are and how these two seasons find them. The principles include:

Maya Gallo - Proud, industrious feminist, she arrives at Blush, the result of nepotism, something that sets the rest of the staff of Blush on edge. Single, with little time to date save those who she meets around the office, she strives to reconcile with her father the issues that have divided them for years. She often finds herself at odds with the other writers and editors of Blush largely over how women are treated. She is a fighter who is loyal to her principles and her friends,

Dennis Finch - Jack's personal assistant, he is a conniving office manager who manipulates Jack much of the time. He is petty and arranges such things as the theft and sale of Nina's bikini and the way into the bed of one of Elliot's ex-girlfriends. He works to keep Jack's life under his control while doing such things as renting out Jack's parking space,

Elliot - The photographer for Blush, he tends to date the models and he has a strong love for art and the women he photographs. He has a smart side that allows him to deflect much of Maya's complaints with his work on the magazine and he struggles to keep a relationship for more than a week,

Nina - The aging model turned fashion editor of Blush, she smokes a lot, is sarcastic and jealous of Maya. She also abuses her expense account, hits on younger men around the office and keeps Finch in his place,

and Jack Gallo - The scatterbrained boss. After bringing Maya aboard Blush, he juggles the magazine with his new daughter, Hannah, who he tries to get into a prestigious school (rather early considering she is born in the first episode). He also wars with his ex-wife (Maya's mother) over a painting and is frequently manipulated by Finch.

The characters are fun, if not the most original. Finch is clearly a type; the sarcastic lackey, but the others are less used, if they are "types." Maya is a relatively actualized character and she stands for many noble feminist ideals in standing against fashion's limited view of beauty. In this boxed set, that is consistent - despite what happens when Maya has Elliot take her new driver's license photo - and she seems rather different from anyone else on a sitcom, at least at the time this was released.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Wendie Malick's Nina. Nina, as portrayed by Malick, fills the same essential niche as Christine Baranski's character on Cybil. Malick even plays Nina sometimes like she is making a parody of Baranski. This is not necessarily a problem - Baranski was brilliant on Cybil - but it does make the show seem a little derivative.

What saves it, then, are the efforts of Laura San Giacomo and Enrico Colantoni. Colantoni, oft-neglected for the talent he is, has played everything from an alien to a mentally retarded adult (on NYPD Blue) to a loving father and private detective on Veronica Mars. As Elliot, Colantoni hones his comic sense with his use of dry wit and he creates a character distinct and different from anyone else he has played on television or in the movies.

Similarly, Laura San Giacomo easily proves that she is not just a good looking body filling the role. She is articulate, arguing strong and reasonable feminist dialogue in a voice that makes her seem a complete authority. Giacomo has a wonderful sense of body language that makes her a natural at the physical comedy when they play Maya that way and she seems to be able to go from completely articulate to slapstick effortlessly. It's easy to see why she was first billed on the show.

This boxed set features notable guest appearances by Dana Carvey and Brian Dennehy. On DVD, they do not seem like such a big deal and the nice thing about Just Shoot Me! is that they are used to serve the main cast, not overwhelm them. Despite how NBC promos at the time might have made it seem, their appearances did not make episodes completely about them, rather they fit into the lives of the characters and the principles used them to play off of. It's refreshing to see a series not dominated by the guest talent.

On DVD, the show is remarkably light on extras. There are a few commentary tracks - nothing as insightful as I would have wanted -, a featurette on fashion and a collection of the covers featured in the episodes. There is little that the DVD buying audience gets that those catching the episodes in syndication would not.

Still, rewatching this series on DVD with this little collection reminded me how smart the sitcom could be and that's a rare thing. Funny, with moments of genuine character, Just Shoot Me! - The Complete First and Second Season is bound to satisfied anyone bored with half-hour comedies on television now.

For other works from the 1997 - 1998 television season, please visit my reviews of:
The X-Files - Season 5
Ellen - Season 5
NYPD Blue - Season 5
Frasier - Season 5
Buffy The Vampire Slayer - Season 2
Ally McBeal - Season 1
Babylon 5 - Season 5
Friends - Season 4
Spin City - Season 2
The Simpsons - Season 9
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine - Season 6
NewsRadio - Season 4
Homicide: Life On The Street - Season 6
Millennium - Season 3
Star Trek: Voyager - Season 4


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

© 2016, 2008 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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