Humor doesn't run in the family

Review: A miasma of tiredness overtakes some characters, the plot and even the genre itself in the lame sitcom `Everything's Relative.'

April 06, 1999|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,SUN TELEVISION CRITIC

The nicest thing I can say about NBC's "Everything's Relative" is that, hopefully, it will be the last new network sitcom of this television season.

And, outside of "Will & Grace" and "Sports Night," what a dreadful year it's been for sitcoms. "Jesse," with Christina Applegate, is the class of the rest of the field, and NBC still hasn't decided whether it is even worth renewing. Compared with "Everything's Relative," "Jesse" is "I Love Lucy."

In fact, watching "Everything's Relative," a series about a young comedy writer's conflicts with his family, I wondered whether after 50 years, the network sitcom had not exhausted itself. Maybe the sitcom is not yet dead.

But if "Everything's Relative" is any indication, it's in a vegetative state on life support at the point where we need to think about pulling the plug.

"Everything's Relative" is another version of NBC's "Conrad Bloom." Those who remember "Conrad Bloom," a fall sitcom about a young advertising copy writer's conflicts with his family, might think it madness that NBC would try again. After all, "Conrad Bloom" was one of the very first of about 2 million new series canceled this fall. But when you're out of ideas, you're out of ideas.

Kevin Rahm stars as Leo Gorelick, the comedy writer "forever torn between trying to break away from his neurotic family, and trying to fix them and their problems." I'm quoting from the language of the NBC press release. "Neurotic" is network code for Jewish and, so, we get the boilerplate overbearing Jewish mother who won't let Leo go.

Here she is played by Jill Clayburgh, and more's the pity that such a great actress should be playing such a sorry, stereotypical character. In "Conrad Bloom," though, it was just as sad with Linda Lavin in the role.

Clayburgh's Mickey Gorelick is supposed to be a "clinical therapist." She's so clinging that Leo literally has to push her out the door after her visits to his apartment. Tonight, she also tries to buy a house across the street from the husband who divorced her until Leo points out how obsessively she is behaving.

She's both pathetic and devouring. The only difference between her and the old-fashioned out-of-control Jewish mother of Sitcom-Land, like Ida Morgenstern (Nancy Walker) of "Rhoda," is that she has graduate degrees to use in psyching her kids to death. Don't you think maybe it's time to quit beating up on Jewish mothers this way?

As for the father, Jake, he's played by Jeffrey Tambor, who was brilliant as a sidekick in HBO's "The Larry Sanders Show." As a featured player in "Everything's Relative," let's just say maybe Tambor should have taken more time to recharge after all his fine and hard work on "Sanders." Here he's mainly sleepwalking through the role of self-absorbed, overbearing dad.

Finally, there's the writing. The big, running gag in tonight's pilot involves Leo's older brother, Marty (Eric Schaeffer), going to the women's clothing area of a department store after dad reports seeing a naked body part through the curtains of a dressing stall. Why any woman would come back next week to watch this show after the contempt for their bodies that is suggested by Marty's description is beyond me. Why none of the women -- or men for that matter -- in programming at NBC had Marty's punch line pulled or rewritten is also beyond me.

"Everything's Relative" certainly isn't the worst network sitcom pilot I've seen this year. Remember "The Secret Diary of Desmond Pfeiffer" on UPN? It's just another waste of a couple of million dollars by a network on an imitation of an imitation in a genre that no longer seems to be connecting with our lives.

`Everything's Relative'

When: 9: 30 to 10 tonight

Where: NBC (WBAL, Channel 11)

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.