Back in the day, 1996 to be precise, when Jay Mohr was lighting up the silver screen as Bob Sugar in Jerry Maguire he probably would have never imagined that his star making turn there would only lead to a stint as the host of a reality show and then the leading man role on a CBS sitcom. But it is now 2010 and here he is as Gary Brooks on Gary Unmarried, and wouldn’t you know it, he makes a damn good leading man.

At this stage in its life the sitcom seems to be on death’s doorstep with only CBS paying for the life support. They are the home, after all, of Two and a Half Men and The Big Bang Theory, two critically and commercially successful shows that thrive in an environment that has devoured most of their counterparts and transformed them into single camera laugh track-less hybrids. And to that mix they added Gary Unmarried back in 2008 and during its first season it brought in an average of 7 million viewers, respectable enough to warrant a second season but not the fireworks that were hoping for. Watching the entire first season allows us to see some of the flaws (telegraphed jokes, extreme risk aversion) and to be reminded of the joy that a well produced sitcom can bring to our lives.

The genre does have a long history of man-hating and this show keeps that tradition going. The premise finds Gary as he struggles to readjust to life after ending a 15-year-old marriage. He had two kids during that time, Tom (Ryan Malgarini) and Louise (Kathryn Newton, except for in the pilot), so they are still hanging about as is Allison (Paula Marshall) his ex. Actually, she hangs about a lot and the writers tease sexual tension out of the two of them throughout the entire season.

Of course the main joke that is being played off of is that Gary is really suffering from arrested development because the comforts of marriage that he was so accustomed to have left him paralyzed in a state of permanent boyhood. He eats meals out of Frisbees (no joke) and is constantly referencing cartoons. And now that the woman is no longer around to cater to his every need he needs to finally pull his socks up and become a real man. In the pilot he hooks up with Vanessa (Jaime King) and remains with her for the first half of the first season. This was done, presumably, because the idea of basing a conservative sitcom around a single dad/sex hound was probably too radical for the average CBS viewer. So instead we find Gary stumbling from one committed relationship to another . . . thus making him hardly unmarried.

With Gary safely tied up with Vanessa, Allison informs him that she too is seeing somebody and intends to marry their marriage councilor Krandall (Ed Begley Jr.). Now in the real world these two couples would simply go about their business but that is not the case here. The two couples mix and mingle incessantly. One episode involves Gary trying to connive his way out of spousal support by trying to convince Krandall to marry Allison ASAP. Another finds Allison and Vanessa as BFF’s which understandably freaks Gary out. The kids are there but are kind of useless and shuffled into the background. They are both annoyingly precocious which seems to be the style of the day. In fact, instead of soliciting advice from an unseen neighbor Gary often times turns to Tom who is never at a loss for words.
This being the DVD release means that the self-contained episode format pretty much loses all meaning here. Of course it is also totally harmless and aside from a few other misdemeanors this show hits all the notes it needs to. It also deserves kudos for dealing with the issue of parental divorce head on and for at least attempting to keep things modern. The sitcom probably should have gone extinct back in the 70’s but today, thanks to shows like this one, the thin herd that still exists is out there doing respectable work.

Starring: Jay Mohr, Paula Marshall, Jaime King, Ed Begley Jr.
Creator: Ed Yeager
Number of Episodes: 20
Total Runtime: 424 minutes

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