Joke's on viewers of 'Oliver Beene'
By Robert Bianco, USA TODAY
Please, Oliver, may we have less? Arriving in the midst of a dire sitcom slump that it can only serve to make worse, Oliver Beene represents just about everything that is wrong with the genre. Badly conceived, badly written, badly cast and badly played, this humorless exercise in reverse nostalgia serves no purpose other than to fill the spot between The Simpsons and Malcolm in the Middle.
If Fox really wants to introduce a new era in sitcoms, how about starting with a show where at least one of the main characters isn't gross or grating? If this is the best Hollywood comedy writers can do, give me Joe Millionaire II.
Though it purports to be about a New York family in 1962, Oliver is really about other TV shows, a common fault in current sitcoms. You listen to the grown-up Oliver narrate stories about his life and his family, and all you hear is Malcolm and The Wonder Years.
Where Malcolm rings true, Oliver rings crude. You get pee jokes, poop jokes, fart jokes — which prompt the mom to say "Boys, grow up." That's not bad advice for most sitcom writers.
Even the show's structure is stolen from better shows. With its narrator and filmed fantasies, Oliver resembles Andy Richter Controls the Universe, a vastly superior show that Fox seems determined to destroy through neglect. Indeed, if Andy had received one-tenth the promo push accorded the nearly ubiquitous Oliver, it might just be the hit it deserves to be.
Like so many sitcom groupings, the Beenes aren't a family; they're a collection of types. Eleven-year-old Oliver (Grant Rosenmeyer) is smart, chubby and desperate to fit in. Brother Ted (Andrew Lawrence) is a dimwitted budding stud. Mom Charlotte (Wendy Makkena) is a social climber who dreams of being Jackie Kennedy.
Which leaves the father, Jerry, a crude, loud-mouthed, penny-pinching dentist played by Grant Shaud. Those who found Shaud's nebbish routine on Murphy Brown tiresome will be surprised, though not pleased, to learn that he has found a whole new way to be tiresome. He shouts every line and punches every joke until you feel like punching back.
In the weeks ahead, the show expands to include more of the kids' friends, including a gay-beyond-his-years little boy. It's a character that might have been funny, but instead is used as a target of cheap, out-of-period gay jokes.
You could complain, but why bother? Oliverdoesn't need more attention.
If anything, it needs less.