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What About Joan and Damon?

TV Reviews: 'What About Joan' and 'My Wife and Kids'


by Mark D. Johnson
March 30, 2001

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What About Joan and Damon?_Mark D. Johnson-TV Reviews: 'What About Joan' and 'My Wife and Kids' Two new comedy series premiered this week on ABC, and in the spirit of opening day festivities of the new baseball season, I'll toss the opening metaphor: one hits a home run, while the other hits a double.

First up is Tuesday night's new offering, "What About Joan," with Joan Cusack as the Chicago high school teacher who has not had much luck with the opposite sex until meeting a great guy played by Kyle Chandler (formerly of "Early Edition"). His sudden marriage proposal early in the show sends Joan reeling, as she franticly seeks counsel from her friends. Eventually, she and the guy get over the ordeal, setting up several shows of the two figuring out how to manage their relationship.

The show has a lot going for it. It has legendary producer James L. Brooks. It's shot entirely in Chicago, giving us a break from yet another series from the east or west coast. The pilot's script was fine, indicating a decent writing staff. Kyle Chandler is a likeable guy. So… What about Joan? I like Joan Cusack, and I think I like her character with one exception: she's far too loud. Compared to the other actors she is yelling her lines, seemingly making a spectacle out of herself in every scene. If she talked that loud in real life, surely the other restaurant patrons would begin to question her mental capacity. Please, Joan, take it down a few notches, and you could be the new Mary Tyler Moore. I really could see our nation's Nielson Families taking a liking to you, but not at this decibel level. The pilot was a two-bagger. One on, nobody out.

Next at the plate is comedic slugger Damon Wayons and his family-oriented show "My Wife and Kids." The past few years have seen the two struggling networks UPN and WB churning out sitcoms targeted toward an African-American audience with a decidedly low-brow approach. And they're still struggling. This new show provides a portrait of a middle-class African-American family that has widespread appeal with its traditional format while clearly addressing trends in black culture. Wayons plays the conservative father of three kids (boy, 14, girl, 12, girl, 5) desperately trying to keep his family from becoming dysfunctional.

On Wednesday, ABC aired the first two episodes of "My Wife and Kids" back to back for its premiere. Maybe the network is just trying to fill in its schedule or perhaps there are extra episodes available for this show since it didn't debut until late March. I don't know. But I think the tactic may well pay off in terms of ratings. We get a better picture of a show's quality after two episodes rather than just one pilot episode, and the high quality of this first episode was surpassed in the second.

In the first, Damon was struggling with his wife's decision to work full time as he saw the kids seemingly becoming more wild as a result. This real-life scenario was handled deftly, balancing a sensitive issue with plenty of humorous punch lines, which were delivered with ease. Very little pilot episode awkwardness. The second episode features more sharp writing with some clever examples of Clintonesque lying. Family issues of fairness, punishment, and forgiveness are weaved in throughout the show, as the father struggles to handle his newly-tattooed son's deceit and rebellion. This long ball sailed far over the center field fence.

"My Wife and Kids" has potential to be the next "Cosby Show." Unfortunately, it goes up against NBC's deservedly successful 'Ed.' Tape one, watch the other!

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