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Canned TV Show #3: The War at Home

November 6, 2009 4 comments

Hello legion of followers, sorry I’m so behind on my third post.  You’d be surprised how little time a college student can have to sit on his backside and watch TV on his laptop.  I thought I went to college for that sole reason!

Also, the show I reviewed for today is not exactly one that is easy to watch multiple episodes of.  When I started this blog, I had no idea it would be quite so hard to sit through bad TV, but it really is people, it really is.  Especially when it’s not so much bad as just bland and mediocre to below-average.  A terrible show might at least be a noble train wreck or entertainingly awful, but one like the one I reviewed tonight is none of these things.  I’m talking, of course, about The War at Home, the little-loved FOX sitcom that aired for two seasons between 2006 and 2007.

In doing the little research I do for this blog, I found that the show had a paltry 28 on metacritic, a site that ranks shows with a composite score out of 100.  The general consensus was that it just wasn’t as funny or edgy as it tried to be, which is mostly true, but that’s not my only problem with this show.  You’ll find out what those are later.

As for the plot, the show concerns the exploits of the Gold family, led by sarcastic, slightly bigoted father Larry (Michael Rapaport), equally sassy mother Vicki (Anita Barone), and their kids: attractive but snotty daughter Hilary (Kaylee DeFer), dorky, awkward son Larry (Kyle Sullivan), and smartass younger son Mike (Dean Collins).  Basically, it’s a typical family sitcom setup.  The only difference is, The War at Home tries to tackle hot-button issues like teen drinking, drug use, racism, homosexuality, masturbation, relationships, and a whole lot more, and handle them in a sensitive but funny way.  Only one problem with this noble goal, and one of my chief criticisms of the series (which are the only important criticisms you need note).  The War at Home is never subtle or sensitive, and it’s rarely that funny.  It got a chuckle out of me here and there, but nothing that would make an entire series worth watching (it should also be noted, I did not watch the whole series, call me a cheating lying poopface if you will, but I watched enough from both seasons to get a solid impression of it).  The setups seem edgy enough, but the show almost always ends it trying to step on as few toes as possible.  The copious amounts of laugh track where laugh track need not go doesn’t help the funniness either.  Instead, it reminds you that you could be getting actual laughs somewhere else.  For an example of this general lack of subtlety, check the following:

For something that tries to be “edgy,” The War at Home feels stale right out of the gate.  It feels like a retread of every other “edgy” family sitcom that came before it, especially the much better Married…with Children.  The difference between the two?  In this one, the actors break the fourth wall and spout their lame jokes at the audience directly!  That’s creative, right?  There are few things more infuriating in life than actors on a plain white background.  For a show that attempts to derive so much humor from its dialogue, so much of it feels forced and unnatural.  Maybe if it tried to derive more humor from its characters and situations instead of their inane banter, it would’ve been a lot funnier.

But what about the characters, you ask?  Well, they’re all pretty unlikeable, but not unlikeable enough to be endearing (for an example of this paradox, look at the Reynolds family from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia).  Mainly, they’re all just really mean to each other.  Is that really how modern families are?  A bunch of arch rivals who are willing to extort each other and stab each other in the back for their own gain?  Maybe some households, but there are so few moments where the family actually feels like a family and not just a bunch of taglines sharing a house together for their dynamic to be believable.  Don’t get me wrong, I think Michael Rapaport’s a likable guy and a pretty solid comedic actor, and Barone’s pretty good also.  It’s just a shame that they had to have this sub-par fare as their showcase.  As for the kids, really only one of them is likable in any way for me, and that’d be Larry.  This is probably because I can relate to his awkwardness and cluelessness when it comes to girls.  Wow, I just realized how sad that is.  Mike and Hilary are both just obnoxious little jerks, and I really felt nothing for them but annoyance.  This might also have to do with the fact that Sullivan is the funniest of the three kid actors.  If anyone has a career after this, I hope it’s gonna be him.  This isn’t the best example, but it showcases his goofy comic presence:

The show also features a slew of other recurring characters, including Hilary’s boyfriend Taye (a black guy!  Hoo lordy!  This would be a shocker if the year was 1958!) and his family, who are so carefully crafted to not feel like stereotypes that they essentially feel so anti-stereotypical that they make new stereotypes in some way (the dad went to Yale and attends a country club, that doesn’t allow Jews!  What a twist of fate!).  The big problem is that nobody feels real, and these smaller characters feel as fleshed out as anyone in the family, despite their lack of screentime.  Seth McFarlane even shows up as a 30 year old dating Hilary!  He’s as funny as he can be with the material, but sadly it doesn’t amount to much:

The thing that amazes me about The War at Home is that apparently, somewhere out there, there’s a devoted and adamant following that laments its passing just like I lament the death of Clone High.  And really, when you look at it, there’s a fair amount of the show that actually got made.  Sure, it only had two seasons, but they were both 22 episodes apiece.  That’s some long seasons.  Networks don’t seem to do that very often unless they have tremendous faith in a show.  And when you look at The War at Home, you can see what potential FOX saw in it.  It was a way for the network to appear to be putting forth another edgy family show, a sort of live-action Family Guy, while not actually running the risk of offending anybody.  The show was even settled snugly in between two actually edgy (and actually funny) family shows, albeit animated ones: The Simpsons and Family Guy.  For me, this made it seem even more alien and unnecessary.  It was an unfunny oasis in the middle of a hilarious desert, an obstacle between the Family Guy fan who also loves The Simpsons and getting from one of their favorite shows to the other.  Maybe that’s why the show lasted as long as it did, that people were just too lazy to change the channel for a half hour, a spot now occupied by the somewhat better but still middling The Cleveland Show.  Can anybody lend credence to this?  Shoot me a comment.

So, Should it be back on the air? Definitely not.  While I admit it’s not the worst show I’ve ever seen, it’s pretty damn unremarkable.  It just feels like it’s trying too hard to be both edgy and sanitary,  and while this may be a good combination for a network to finance, it probably won’t feel quite that way with viewers, and even its apparently dedicated fanbase wasn’t big enough to keep it on the air.  If for some reason you feel compelled to watch the show anyway, some episodes are on youtube, but the whole series can be seen on youku or megavideo (go to surfthechannel.com to get to the links).

I’ve decided I should probably get on some sort of schedule with these posts, so I’ll try to do one once a week, probably on the weekend.  Because, you know, I have very little social life.

Come back next week, when I’ll be looking at the short-lived Nathan Fillion vehicle (oh God, what a terrible pun) Drive!  It’s my shortest one so far, which will be a nice break from the almost painfully long one I just reviewed.

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