Part of the appeal of traditional sitcoms is their predictability. Some absurd premise is set up, wacky events ensue and we all learn a little life lesson by episode’s end. Shows like Hot in Cleveland aren’t changing the face of television or adding to pop culture’s cache of catchphrases, but when d one right, they’re the equivalent of a bowl of ice cream eaten in your pajamas on a rainy Friday night.
The important part of that last sentence is “when done right.” When not done right, you get the awkward and sweaty Retired at 35, in which the titular 35-year-old (Johnathan McClain) quits his job in New York City and stays in his parents’ retirement home in Florida. Cast with the prickly Jessica Walter as the mom and the Borscht Belt-y George Segal as the dad (“Are you on the Facial book?” he asks), the show feels mean-spirited and out-of-date. Old people don’t know about networking sites! Moving back to your hometown is awkward! Old crushes remain single and pining for you! Old people talking about or—ew!—actually having sex are funny!
On the flip side, CMT’s traditional sitcom Working Class is the perfect nap for your brain. Starring the reliably funny Melissa Peterman (of Reba) in a mash-up of The New Adventures of Old Christine (without the offensiveness) and Reba (without the messy divorce angle), Working Class is a pleasant Friday night diversion of harmless comedy. Peterman’s Carlie, who works in an upscale grocery store while raising three children with only the help of her lazy brother, accidentally hits on her boss in the pilot, then gently turns down a marriage proposal from an old high school friend. (See, Retired at 35? Not all high school classmates remain interested or available.) More importantly, Working Class knows how to take recognizable character actors and, like Hot in Cleveland, give them something interesting to do. So we get Ryan Stiles as a dentist with whom Carlie goes on a disastrous dinner date in the hopes of free dental work for her oldest son, and perpetually foxy Patrick Fabian as Carlie’s boss—not to mention Reba McEntire herself in an upcoming episode.
Shows like Working Class and Hot in Cleveland are havens for actors like Stiles, Ed Asner, Tim Conway or even stars Wendie Malick, Valerie Bertinelli and Jane Leeves: performers who remain amusing but whose style of comedy has slowly been edged out in favor of the ironic or post-modern sitcoms now in favor. Nothing wrong with either type, of course, but it’s still fun to see old pros with strong material get the chance to do their thing again.
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