Sony // 2006 // 288 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Adam Arseneau (Retired) // January 5th, 2009
10% scripted, 90% improv, 100% lunacy.
If you were to run a small independent grocery store and have every one of your employees on a constant binge of Red Bull and cocaine, the end result would be 10 Items or Less, a TBS original comedy mixing improvisational comedy with fresh produce. Like much improv, the end result is uneven, but oddly likable even in its weak moments.
After the untimely death of his father, Leslie (John Lehr, Jesse) returns home to Ohio to inherit the Greens & Grains, his father's independent grocery store, which is struggling in the face of competition from a growing conglomerate of mega-marts. The staff is not quite the brightest, but neither is Leslie. Desperate to prove to his now-dead father that he can amount to something, he tries to keep the store afloat.
10 Items or Less: Seasons 1 & 2 contains all 13 episodes from the first and second seasons, listed below:
* "The New Boss"
After his father's death, Leslie returns to the Greens & Grains to take over the family's crumbling grocery store. To build spirit, Leslie attempts to moderate an encounter session between his employees, but the ensuing chaos causes more division than unity. Leslie's high school crush Amy (Jennifer Elise Cox, The Brady Bunch Movie) appears as a representative of a rival mega-mart store, the Super Value Mart, trying to buy out the G&G.
* "The Miracle Worker"
A water stain appears on the wall of the store that looks like Jesus, and Leslie immediately tries to cash in on the "miracle" for profit. Carl (Bob Clendenin, Scrubs) prepares to meet his son for the first time but unwittingly causes a religious experience.
* "Health Insurance"
When their premiums for health insurance go up, Leslie offers the staff a compromise: if one employee volunteers to quit, the insurance can stay. To decide on who gets the axe, he holds "reality competitions" in the store to test which employees deserve to stay. When the butcher Todd (Chris Payne Gilbert, The Broken Hearts Club) loses, he takes a job at the Super Value Mart, much to Amy's delight.
* "What Women Want"
Leslie tries to join the Protective and Benevolent Order of the Bisons, a local club in town, but his lack of attachment draws ire from the inductors. Desperate for a date, he takes Ingrid (Kirsten Gronfield, Yours, Mine and Ours) and seems like a shoo-in once he realizes Ingrid's father was a Bison founder.
* "Bag It"
When Leslie runs an ad claiming the G&G has the fastest baggers in town, the Super Value Mart challenge them to a bagging content. Unfortunately, their star bagger Buck (Greg Davis Jr., King of California) refuses to participate. Ingrid is brought in as a replacement, but things look grim.
* "Dollar Day"
Leslie announces a promotion called "Free Money," which attracts armed robbers to the store. Taken hostage, Ingrid soon gets Stockholm Syndrome and helps the robbers out.
* "Forever Young"
Normally sober, Buck gets drunk at a club and spends the night with Amy, which sends Leslie into a fit of depression. Desperate to reclaim his lost youth, he hits the clubs.
* "To Heir Is Human"
On the anniversary of his father's death, Leslie contemplates his own legacy and decides to leave the store to his heir, nominating Carl. Attempting to jumpstart Carl's relationship with Yolanda (Roberta Valderrama, Sweetzer) Leslie sets up a romantic dinner in the break room for the two that ends with a mistimed marriage proposal.
* "First Time"
Ingrid decides it's time to lose her virginity and asks Leslie to do the deed, but when he fails to, ahem, rise to the challenge, he questions his own sexuality.
* "The Bromance"
Todd wins five cows in a poker game and pitches an idea to Leslie: beef slaughtered to order, in the store. Too bad a USDA inspector gets wind!
* "Amy Strikes Back"
A compromising video of Amy on the Internet gets Amy fired from the Super Value Mart, and so Leslie gives her a job, much to the horror of his employees.
* "Illegal Alien"
Leslie photographs the crew for the annual store calendar, starring Ingrid on the cover. But once Amy discovers Ingrid is an illegal alien, she calls the police, forcing her to hide out in the store from INS agents.
* "The Ren Fair"
The crew dresses up as Renaissance folk to stir up business, soon challenging the Super Value Mart to a jousting contest.
Given the runaway success of The Office, it's no surprise to see other networks giving the workplace environment/improvisational humor a try, but nothing so far has been as blatantly plagiarist as 10 Items or Less. The similarities are many: zany employment antics of a third-tier struggling company; a meddlesome, disconnected boss who causes chaos wherever he goes; a colorful cast of stereotypical characters; and a complete absence of anyone actually doing any work. While 10 Items or Less can't hold a candle to The Office, it attempts to compensate by being crazier, zanier, faster, and more spasmodic. As rhythms go, this may not be the most original, but it more or less works.
Comprised almost entirely of improvisational dialogue between its protagonists, with actors only given the must rudimentary direction and plot points to dance about, 10 Items or Less is a bit rough around the edges, but manages to get some satisfying laughs going, but only provided your sense of humor skews towards the awkward and random. The star of the show is John Lehr, who plays the hapless Leslie like a spastic cross between two funnier television personalities: the sardonic wit of Jason Bateman on Arrested Development and the full-blown insanity and horrible managerial style of Steve Carrell from The Office. Except with lots and lots of cocaine. The rest of the cast say and do things, but this is Lehr's show; most of them are just there to provide somebody for him to go nuts on. Like a machine gun firing blindly, 10 Items or Less sprays its jokes in every direction, but I'd be lying if I said the show didn't have me laughing at least once an episode.
Where the show suffers is in the polish department. The minimalist script style of shooting leads to some admitted moments of inspired comedic brilliance, but just as often, it leads to lulls and awkward drags in pacing. Editing lets the show get around many of its problems, but not all of them. Some episodes are just plain bad, and entire segments could easily have made it into the bin.
It's hard to shake away the realization that 10 Items or Less is nothing but The Office with a lower pay grade. It's not a bad show, but uneven pacing and a seemingly random joke success/failure ratio keep it from being anything but a mild cable television curiosity. TBS has picked up the show for a third season, and given some time and growth, it could easily find its niche, but as it stands, there's just too much top-tier competition in its category for 10 Items or Less to make a meaningful mark.
10 Items or Less: Seasons 1 & 2 contains (you guess it) both the first and second seasons of the show, all 13 episodes -- and that's total. The first season is a measly five episodes long, with a rough, pilot-like appearance, but TBS clearly felt the show deserved a money bump going into the second, upping the count to eight episodes and increasing the production values. The second season looks worlds away better, with vibrant color saturation and sharp detail. Definitely some new cameras at work. It's a shame about how bad the first five episodes look, though -- just grainy and nasty-looking. As for audio, a simple stereo presentation does the job well enough, with clear dialogue and a canned music-styled theme, but just like the video, things unexpectedly improve in the second season. The stereo gets replaced with a full surround presentation, although one would be hard-pressed to tell the difference.
In terms of extras, we get a behind-the-scenes featurette interviewing cast and crew, notes from the casting couch (more behind-the-scenes footage and interviews), a blooper reel, and two short viral videos released on the Internet -- all told, only about 20 minutes of supplements.
10 Items Or Less is preposterous and off-the-cuff funny, but not all the time, and that's the problem with shows so heavily dependent on improv humor. It tries way, way too hard to be funny all the time, and fails, because no show can do that. It makes no attempt to develop any meaningful character growth or development beyond surface plots to set up outrageous situations. When the jokes fall flat, it feels stunted, lilting, and disoriented, as if the actors have no idea what to say or do next. There's no normal character to relate to, no Jim and Pam to bounce off the craziness in The Office, no sense of contrast. Everyone is just cocaine-addled and frenetic for the sake of being outrageous.
A bit rough around the edges, 10 Items Or Less still manages to be charming in its own awkward, stumbling fashion. This kind of improvisational comedy can be hit-or-miss, but when it connects, the laughs flow nicely.
Not guilty. Paper or plastic?
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 288 Minutes
Release Year: 2006
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Blooper Reel
* Viral Videos
* Official Site