Love That Chris 

The rock & roll sitcom

Wednesday, Mar 7 2001

Once you excuse -- or embrace -- the cable-required gratuitous female nudity, The Chris Isaak Show, a new series from Showtime starring the chiseled-visaged retro-pop singer as a version of himself, proves itself a rendezvous of semisophisticated charm, sweet temper, sly wit, sure craft and, um, naked girls. Certainly it‘s the first decent sitcom Showtime has managed to field. Produced by Northern Exposure’s Diane Frolov and Andrew Schneider, it takes as models such HBO one-camera comedies as Larry Sanders and Arliss, not only in form but in substance, concerning as it does the organization as family -- with the star as fallible Dad -- and amalgamating the fictional and the actual. (It is, however, much less cynical and far more cheerful than either of those shows.) Along with Isaak, the longtime members of his band, Silvertone, appear as themselves (abetted by ringer Jed Rees, who was a funny little alien in Galaxy Quest and who here pretends to play keyboards), and there are special guests from the real world such as Minnie Driver, Stevie Nicks, Junior Brown, Joe Walsh and Chris‘ mother. Isaak plays and hangs out at Bimbo’s, which is a real San Francisco nightclub (re-created for the show on a Vancouver sound stage), and lives in a house based on his own. The Jack Benny Show, another comedy in which an entertainer played himself surrounded by people who actually worked for him, is clearly an influence (Jed Rees being approximately Dennis Day), as is possibly Love That Bob for the bachelor-life storylines, and Ozzie and Harriet for the bits where Ricky sang and for the bubble of 1950s style in which Isaak and his bandmates dwell.

Isaak -- who has played small parts in movies and on TV for years (as well as co-starring in Bertolucci‘s Little Buddha) -- is a personable and good-looking not-quite-so-young man, funny and relaxed and able to get a lot out of a line like ”Non sequitur -- that’s Latin for huhwaaah?“ or ”I don‘t believe in that superstitious stuff -- I’m a Catholic.“ He has a smooth and pretty singing voice, which he sometimes gives a jagged edge; a passel of songs in a slightly punked-out Ricky NelsonElvis PresleyRoy Orbison mode (surely you remember ”Wicked Game“); a closetful of boss old shirts and spangly stage gear to hang on his naturally padded shoulders; and an engaging self-deprecating streak: He‘s confident enough to play the rock-star stud, and realistic enough to see that as comic and pathetic. In like fashion, the series both lampoons and celebrates the pop life: His is a groovy world, despite the sitcomical situations -- the neighbor’s rabbit apparently killed by the dog Chris is watching, cheapskate Chris in a bidding war for Scotty Moore‘s guitar, a big-breasted accountant stripping nightly in the window across the way and Chris can’t figure out what‘s the deal.

The deal, of course, is that we are in the wild world of premium cable -- and what can be shown will be. Still, as naked or partially naked women go, on TV or in the movies, these are more interesting- and natural-looking than most, and are rewarded with good lines and real parts; they get to be funny and even smart, which is not what show business usually asks of its naked or partially naked women. (The boys, you should not be surprised, keep their pants on.) Bobby Jo Moore, who is all naked all the time, plays Mona, the Bimbo’s ”mermaid“ -- her projected image floats in a fishbowl behind the bar -- and Isaak‘s sounding board; she is cool and mystical and, as I say, naked. The show is at least half about sex, which is only what people expect from their rock stars, after all. Kristin Dattilo plays Isaak’s manager, Yola, and her love life is as much the subject of the show as his. They are both unlucky in it -- beautiful losers who get the girlsboys but cannot keep them, or find continually they‘ve got the wrong one. (I suppose such people do exist.) No more fortunate is Jed Rees’ Anson -- the episodes I‘ve seen all break down into the Chris story, the Yola story and the Anson story -- the band’s slightly dim, helplessly hapless ”rock“ dude and compulsive girl-getter. (Such people do exist.) Rees has the face of a wayward elf; his Anson is all innocent id, a devil with an angel on his shoulder, and he is very funny. The rest of the band -- the professional musiciansamateur actors -- handle themselves well. And there is a lot of music, all of it live and exciting. I feel fairly secure in calling The Chris Isaak Show ”The best rock & roll sitcom since The Monkees!“ You may quote me.

Related Stories

I have also been enjoying Cold Feet, a British import airing on Bravo that was the model for an American series of the same name, which lasted four whole episodes on NBC a couple of years back. The British show itself refracts such stateside series as Friends (six characters, three of each gender, bound by friendship and various arrows of sexual attraction) and thirtysomething (for its yuppie milieu and stories of grown-ups still working out what they want in life). Indeed, it splits the difference between them: It‘s more serious than Friends and funnier than thirtysomething, with neither the overlit farcicality of the first nor the glamorous gloss of the second. This is more kitchen-sink school, more Mike LeighKen Loach, and the actors, though they are possessed of actorly grace, look more like people you might know than people you might watch on TV. (Among them is John Thomson, whom fans of The Fast Show -- called Brilliant on BBC America -- will recognize as jazz presenter Louis Balfour.) There is a lot of event in these lives, more than in mine at any rate, but the essential soapiness of the series is masked by the high quality of the writing and acting. It’s all very involving. Watching the other night, as James Nesbitt (Waking Ned Devine) obsessed over his potential fatherhood of Helen Baxendale‘s unborn child -- Baxendale (An Unsuitable Job for a Woman) was actually on Friends, playing David Schwimmer’s English wife -- I found I had entered the rare state of truly caring what happened to the characters, of fearing for them. I would have sacrificed the story to spare them pain.

It may just be my schoolboy crush on the radiant Megyn Price, but I find myself looking forward to Grounded for Life, a vehicle for The Tao of Steve star Donal Logue and the season‘s second young-parent(s)-of-a-teenager series (after Gilmore Girls). Grounded, in which Price plays wife to Logue, bears the mark of Fox (it comes from the producers of That ’70s Show), being loud and crude, teeming with invective and insult, and unafraid of a drug joke or three -- a show that posits vandalizing a nun‘s car as a form of father-daughter bonding. We are given to understand, however, as in The Simpsons and Married With Children and Malcolm in the Middle, that what looks like dysfunction is really a deep form of understanding. You have met these people before: the grumpy old dad (see: Titus), the wacky brother (see: any sitcom with a brother in it), the smart-mouthed teenage daughter (ditto), the confused younger siblings (and so on). The central question of the show, which is also not new, is how do you raise your kids to be smarter and less reckless than you were when you’re still half in love with dumb recklessness? ”I don‘t want to be the kind of guy who scolds his kid for getting drunk at Action Mountain,“ says Logue, having gone there to fetch his errant daughter. ”I wanna be the guy getting drunk at Action Mountain.“ I don’t make any great claims for the series -- the grumpy dad annoys me, the plots are twisted versions of plots sitcom characters have been living out since time immemorial (or the ‘50s at least), the daughter is strident, and the laugh track makes me want to vomit. But the wacky brother is the great Kevin Corrigan (Slums of Beverly Hills), and Logue and Price have a natural rapport -- they seem genuinely amused by and attracted to each other, which from his point of view I can absolutely understand. And he’s not bad either.

Related Content

Now Showing

  1. Wed 16
  2. Thu 17
  3. Fri 18
  4. Sat 19
  5. Sun 20
  6. Mon 21
  7. Tue 22

    Find capsule reviews, showtimes & tickets for all films in town.

    Sponsored by Fandor

Box Office

Scores provided by Rotten Tomatoes

Join My Voice Nation for free stuff, concert and dining info & more!

Around The Web


  • Nicolas Cage's 10 Best Movie Roles
    As video-on-demand continues to become the preferred route of distribution for a certain kind of independent film, much is being made of Nicolas Cage's willingness to slum for a paycheck, with recent examples including already-forgotten, small-screen-friendly items like Seeking Justice, Trespass, Stolen, and The Frozen Ground. (His character names in these projects -- Will Gerard, Kyle Miller, Will Montgomery, and Jack Halcombe -- are as interchangeable as the titles of the films.) Aside from citing the obvious appeal of doing work for money (a defense Cage himself brought up in a recent interview with The Guardian), it's also possible to back Cage by acknowledging the consistency with which he's taken on "serious" roles over the years.

    David Gordon Green's Joe, which hits limited release this weekend (more details on that here), marks the latest instance of this trend, with Cage giving a reportedly subdued performance as an ex-con named Joe Ransom. In that spirit, we've put together a rundown of some of the actor's finest performances, all of which serve as proof that, though his over-the-top inclinations may make for a side-splitting YouTube compilation, Cage has amassed a career that few contemporary actors can equal. This list is hardly airtight in its exclusivity, so a few honorable mentions ought to go out to a pair of Cage's deliriously uneven auteur collaborations (David Lynch's Wild at Heart, Brian De Palma's Snake Eyes), 1983's Valley Girl, 1987's Moonstruck, and Alex Proyas's Knowing (a favorite of the late Roger Ebert).

    --Danny King
  • Ten Enduring Conspiracy Thrillers
    With the approaching release this week of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, many critics, including L.A. Weekly’s own Amy Nicholson, have noted the film’s similarities (starting with the obvious: Robert Redford) to the string of conspiracy thrillers that dominated American cinema during the 1970s. With that in mind, we’ve compiled a list of ten of the most enduring entries in the genre -- most of them coming from the ‘70s, but with a few early-‘80s holdouts added in for good measure. This is by no means an exclusive list, and more recent films like Roger Donaldson’s No Way Out (1987), Jacques Rivette’s Secret Defense (1998), Tony Scott’s Enemy of the State (1998), Stephen Gaghan’s Syriana (2005), and Redford’s own The Company You Keep (2012) speak to how well the genre has sustained itself over time. Words by Danny King.
  • Behind the Scenes of Muppets Most Wanted
    "The endurance of the Muppets isn't just the result of the creative skills of Henson and collaborators like Frank Oz, or of smart business decisions, or of sheer dumb luck," writes this paper's film critic Stephanie Zacharek in her review of Muppets Most Wanted. "It's simply that the Muppets are just ever so slightly, or maybe even totally, mad. Man, woman, child: Who can resist them? Even TV-watching cats are drawn to their frisky hippety-hopping and flutey, gravely, squeaky, squawky voices." Go behind the scenes with the hippety-hopping Muppets with these images.

    Read our full Muppets Most Wanted movie review.

Now Trending