A homosexual leaves the big city to rejoin disfunctional family in small town America. Do this with ugly overtones, and you get John Goodman’s entry in last year’s Disappointing Sitcoms With Talented Stars derby. Do this with an upbeat bounce, and you get CBS’s watchable-though-not-amazing The Ellen Show.
The promotional material for this show suggested that they would be downplaying the gay theme, which worried me. After all, Ellen Degeneres’s previous show These Friends Of Mine (later renamed Ellen) was a horrible example of a pointless sitcom *until* they introduced the gay theme, at which point it became actually *about* something, giving it a wellspring of humor. However, the homosexuality is not ignored. SPOILER WARNING FOR THOSE WAITING TO WATCH IT FROM TAPE. Some fun is had with Ellen’s old room having been decked out in protolesbian chic (Wonder Woman and Billie Jean King posters), and a running gag through the episode is about the butch gym teacher at the local school who is instantly smitten with Ellen, presumably because she’s the only other lesbian in town now. (There’s a fine comedy song with this lonely theme, “The Only Gay Eskimo”.)
There were a few laugh-out-loud moments in this show (including one rather obvious joke that I fell for), but the emotional context really wasn’t involving. Ellen’s decision to stay back home didn’t come from any vast emotional truth, but was mere sitcom set-up. Okay, they’ve got it set up, now let’s see what they do with it. This show isn’t on my definite long-term watch list, but it’ll get at least another couple episodes to make its case.
Sitcom fans should note that the series regular include Cloris Leachman, Martin Mull, and Jim Gaffigan (the relatively unknown centerpiece of last year’s Welcome To New York, which managed to waste the talents of Christine Baranski, Rocky Carroll, and Sarah Gilbert.)
Also debuting on Monday was Crossing Jordan, about an overenthusiastic medical examiner who can’t keep a job because she keeps expanding her examination beyond its proper limits, trying to solve murders herself. The characters are good; comics writer Miguel Ferrer, as her boss, is fun to watch (as always), and it’s nice to see Ken “The White Shadow” Howard again, playing her ex-cop dad. The actual plot for this one was rather clumsily done (which was what drove me away from CSI after one episode — CSI’s success being the obvious reason for this show’s existence), and the casting of Kyle Secor in a guest role actually telegraphed part of the plot. However the character stuff was nice enough that I will be revisiting it. Perhaps the plots will be better now that they have the set-up out of the way.