NBC's The Paul Reiser Show: a well-meaning, network TV-ified clone of Curb Your Enthusiasm
Paul Reiser is a guy you can't help liking.
And I've always admired the way he's made the most of his nebbishy, self-deprecating appeal, from the slimy corporate opportunist at the heart of Jim Cameron's amazing Alien sequel to the put-upon husband who somehow made Helen Hunt look less pretentious in NBC's hit 90s sitcom, Mad About You.
If Larry David is the guy whose capacity for minor-league self-absorption never ceases to amaze, then Reiser is his much nicer younger brother.
Which is why it pains me to say that, after watching three episodes of Reiser's new self-titled comedy for NBC debuting tonight, I wish he had spent a little more time at the drawing board.
Because The Paul Reiser Show comes off as little more than a pale, network TV-style adaptation of the much more creatively daring comedy his pal David created for HBO, Curb Your Enthusiasm. And that similarity isn't really excused by Reiser managing to nice guy his buddy David into actually appearing in the show's first episode, airing tonight.
Reiser plays character named Paul Reiser, a TV star ten years past his greatest success who is trying to balance fatherhood and a settled domestic life with the notion that, just maybe, he should stop living off his past success and actually, you know, do something. Like the real-life Reiser.
Unfortunately, what Reiser chose to do was clone his friend's post-Seinfeld comedy hit, with all the rough edges sanded down. So Reiser's stable of buddies are reliably wacky pals like The Mummy co-star Omid Djalili and NBA player-turned actor Duane Martin and his wife is pretty brunette Amy Landecker -- a dead ringer for David's HBO wife, Cheryl Hines. And the situations are similarly network-friendly: picking up the wrong friend's kid after school, fretting that a friend (David) would host a game show he turned down, discovering that he'd rather stay how with his kids than work in show business.
Even a scene with David, where he urges Reiser to do his own version of Curb, only highlights how pale Reiser's copy truly is. Improvised in the same way Curb's scenes are done, it basically smacks viewers over the head with its appropriations, asking us to forgive him for the theft because, hey, the guy who created Curb Your Enthusiasm digs it.
This show may still work. Airing before Office star Steve Carell's last two shows on the series (guesting movie star Will Ferrell), Reiser's debut couldn't have a better spot on NBC's diminished schedule. And the recent success of old Hollywood hands such as Dana Delany and Kathy Bates on new shows indicates TV audiences might be turning toward stars they know.
But if Reiser's show works, its because we can't help forgiving him -- even when he basically rips off a friends best work.