Monday, June 21, 2010

Pilot Review: Hot in Cleveland

Hot in Cleveland (TV Land)
Premiered June 16 at 10pm

This was my first experience with TV Land, and it’s not just me. This is the network’s first foray into scripted original series. For a channel that focuses primarily on vintage comedy classics, it’s no surprise that their premiere original comedy has a laugh track. But what’s worth noting about this pilot is that it’s the first time in at least three years of new series debuts that the sound of a laugh track doesn’t seem entirely superficial. The moments that are followed by an outburst of canned laughter are actually occasionally somewhat funny. This feels like a reminder of why the laugh track works, to supplement the humorous moments and make them seem funnier than they may be. It’s easier to laugh if someone’s already laughing, and this show reminds me of that in a way that all of the laugh track-infused sitcoms of the past few years haven’t. While it’s not terribly funny, the leading ladies are all appealing enough in their own ways to carry it. Valerie Bertinelli is needy and neurotic, but not in a grossly obnoxious way like Sophie Winkleman on NBC’s most recent stupid sitcom, “100 Questions.” Jane Leeves is appropriately snippy and self-deprecating, and I like how Betty White’s character has already decided that she doesn’t like her. Wendie Malick, who often carried “Just Shoot Me” all by herself, delivers a surprisingly fresh take on the has-been actress desperate to appear twenty years younger than she actually is. And then there’s Betty White, who is moderately funny as the irritable, pot-smoking caretaker of the new property Bertinelli’s Melanie has purchased. What really makes her appearance worthwhile is how ridiculously excited the audience seems to get every time she pops into the frame. Having the four very different women experience the city of Cleveland should be fun, and medium-profile guest stars like John Schneider demonstrate that this show is smart about its casting. It may not be wildly original, but if it works, what’s the problem?

How will it work as a series? Now that they’re (temporarily) planted in Cleveland, the three leading ladies will experience many things that will influence their sense of the way the world works. It could easily get old extremely quickly, like “Cougar Town” did, but it could also be entertaining if the women are fun enough, which I suspect they will be. I don’t anticipate anything truly terrific out of this show, but it should be good for some mindless fun.
How long will it last? This is exactly the kind of show that TV Land should be producing, and mediocre reviews shouldn’t detract from the fact that this network may have a chance to offer something other than reruns. With no other original programming to compare it to, it seems to be like this show could be around for a good, long time. I think a second season renewal probably isn’t too far off, especially considering the extensive publicity that has been put forth for this show.

Pilot grade: B

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