By Sherrie Li
By Falling James
By Amanda Lewis
By Amy Nicholson
By Amy Nicholson
By Jennifer Swann
By Scott Foundas
By Sherrie Li
I enjoyed Richter when he was Conan O’Brien‘s sidekick, and his new show, in which he plays a Walter Mitty--ish technical writer whose fantasy life often overwhelms his real life, is likable and quite funny in places, though never quite as funny as you want it to be. The show’s gimmick is that it reveals what Andy wishes he‘d done in a given situation as well as what he actually did. (His speech to the anti-Semite is a fantasy; in reality, he pretends he has an appointment and dashes from her bedroom in his underwear.) So if Andy’s saying good morning to the pretty new receptionist, Wendy (Irene Molloy), we first get a slew of imaginary sequences (Andy arriving in a coat of live puppy dogs or dancing like Fred Astaire) before we get the real one, in which the nervous copywriter screws up his opening line by saying ”Hi are you?“ instead of ”How are you?“ The problem is that the fantasy scenes are too cutesy and the reality too humdrum for the show to hold your interest for long. Since he‘s never going to be a traditional leading man, Richter is going to have to be an even more unconventional one if his show is going to succeed.
And now for something completely . . . successful. Last week’s (repeat) episode of The Bernie Mac Show (Fox, Wednesdays), in which Bernie had to get the kids ready for their first day at school, was as funny as the show usually is. Which is to say, very funny. Here is a sitcom with the natural ease and authority that goes with having a great premise, a dynamite star, a well-written script, inventive visuals, topnotch music and a terrific supporting cast. In short, it‘s a show that has it all and one that any new comedies will have to measure themselves against.
As an uncle reluctantly bringing up his sister’s children, and a firm believer in the tough-love approach to child rearing, Bernie Mac plays like a super-cool Jackie Gleason or Groucho Marx in a dashiki. He‘s a reactionary, which is good, because childhood has been so thoroughly colonized by the therapy industry that even a mildly common-sensical stance is not only bracing but funny. Thus some of the best scenes in the episode come in flashbacks showing Bernie and wife Wanda checking out a pre-school for 5-year-old Bryanna and a Catholic school for 8-year-old Jordan. The pre-school is a ”child-centric,“ ”gender-neutral“ touchy-feely never-never land in which the word teach has been replaced with the word reach, as in reaching out to children rather than teaching them. The Catholic school where Bernie and Wanda take Jordan for an interview with the school’s ”Dean of Discipline,“ the terrifying, chain-smoking Father Cronin, is a rather different proposition. ”So, do you guys teach?“ asks Bernie, who‘s beginning to wonder if anyone does that anymore. ”Of course we teach, what the hell kind of question is that?“ Father Cronin retorts in his thick Irish brogue. Then, in answer to a question from Wanda, he explains that the only kind of children’s ”self-expression“ he‘s interested in is in children learning to do what they’re told.
Bernie, of course, is delighted -- here at last is a man on the same wavelength -- and beams with pleasure even when Cronin compares schoolchildren unfavorably to lepers. ”Amen,“ Bernie pronounces loudly. ”We‘ll have none of that shoutin’ here,“ the priest shoots back in a delicious bit of Catholic-vs.-Southern-Baptist comedy. Approaching the end of its first season, Bernie Mac already looks like a classic.
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