CBS banks on comedy with ‘Gary’

Posted Sept. 23, 2008, at 8:33 p.m.

Brave CBS.

Now there’s two words not often put together.

The eye is leading off a second night with sitcoms, at a time when network comedy is supposedly dead. CBS has long had success with comedies on Monday night, and its execs are no doubt hoping lightning strikes again on Wednesday.

Rather than rapidly shuffling “The New Adventures of Old Christine” around the schedule, the network is leading off Wednesdays with the Julia Louis-Dreyfus show at 8 p.m., followed by the new sitcom “Gary Unmarried,” which debuts tonight.

“Gary Unmarried” is a fairly well-suited vehicle for caustic comic Jay Mohr. It’s not quite the perfect fit that his character, the producer Peter Dragon, was in the cruelly truncated “Action,” but it beats Mohr’s throwaway role as the paranormal professor on “Ghost Whisperer.”

Gary Brooks is a recently divorced housepainter with two children (one precocious, one neurotic). He’s the stereotypical man-boy and weekend dad who has doubts about his ex-wife’s new-agey parenting techniques and who keeps two beers and ranch dressing in his fridge.

His ex-wife is played by show-killer Paula Marshall (the short-lived “Out of Practice,” “Cursed,” “Snoops,” “Cupid,” among others). Allison is that TV staple, the emasculating harpy of an ex-wife.

Gary becomes interested in Vanessa (Jaime King), a single mother whose condo he is painting. He and Allison had agreed to stay out of relationships for a time for their kids’ sake. So Gary approaches her about changing “the rules,” only to find out that she’s secretly gotten engaged to their former marriage counselor (played by Ed Begley Jr.). Age jokes ensue.

Too many shows peak with their pilots. With “Gary Unmarried,” the material doesn’t measure up yet to the talent involved. Fortunately, Emmy Award winner James Burrows (“Cheers,” “Will & Grace”) is directing the series, and if anyone can bring it along, he can.

Besides, “Gary Unmarried” is hardly the worst sitcom on the networks (consider Fox’s “’Til Death” and “Do Not Disturb” and CBS’ one-note “Worst Week” for proof). It just needs time and character development to succeed.

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