ABC Studios // 2009 // 424 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // February 9th, 2010
"The comedy hit about trying to start over while still holding on to the things that really matter."
The sitcom is a strange beast. It seems to thrive on recycling the same old stories with a single new twist, like "Oh, it's a family with a crazy uncle who comes to stay...but they're African-American!" or "It's so funny when two people who hate each other have to spend the night in an enclosed space...let's make it the elevator of their insurance company." Armed with these ideas, writers produce shows which are just familiar enough to be comforting, but different enough so we won't just watch another, similar show in syndication. Gary Unmarried fits into the usual sitcom categories, with the newly single dad of exceptional children trying to deal with finding himself post-divorce. Throw in the demanding ex-wife and her new relationship and you've got a recipe for sitcom gold in Gary Unmarried: The Complete First Season.
Gary (Jay Mohr, Suicide Kings) is a recently divorced dad of a girl (who's super-smart and intensely liberal) and a boy (who's still in the awkward "I'm afraid of girls" stage). Getting over the breakup would be a lot easier if his wife (Paula Marshall, Californication) hadn't just become engaged to their marriage counselor (Ed Begley Jr., Pineapple Express).
All twenty episodes of the first season are included on this three-disc set:
* "Gary Gets Boundaries"
* "Garry Marries Off His Ex"
* "Gary Gets His Stuff Back"
* "Gary Breaks Up His Ex-Wife and Girlfriend"
* "Gary Meets the Gang"
* "Gary and Allison's Restaurant"
* "Gary and Allison Brooks"
* "Gary Gives Thanks"
* "Gary Goes First"
* "Gary Toughens Up Tom"
* "Gary Dates Louise's Teacher"
* "Gary Moves Back In"
* "Gary And Dennis' Sister"
* "Gary Ex-Brother-In-Law"
* "Gary Uses His Veto"
* "Gary Hooks Up Allison"
* "Gary and the Trophy"
* "Gary and His Half-Brother"
* "Gary Fixes Allison's Garbage Disposal"
Gary Unmarried is what I like to call shotgun comedy: the writers shoot out an insane number of jokes and hope that at least some of them will hit everybody even if no one likes them all. This approach is obvious even from the premise of Gary Unmarried: newly divorced dad (check!), overbearing-but-loveable ex-wife (check!), child who's smarter than her father (check!), awkward therapist who's also a love interest (check!). It's like the creators went out of their way to collect every sitcom trope they could think of from the past several decades and threw them all into one show.
Surprisingly, it works. Sure, only one out of every ten jokes actually lands, but they're coming so frequently the misses don't really register. Instead, over a 22-minute episode the average viewer is likely to get three or four good chuckles, which isn't a bad way to spend some time.
Much of the credit goes to the writing team, who keep Gary's character familiar enough in his awkward surroundings (like explaining to his son how to deal with girls while he is having trouble himself) but offer a updated, slightly edgier twist (although this is by no means a raunchy comedy show). The rest of the credit goes to the fantastic cast. I'm really only familiar with Jay Mohr from his excellent turn in Suicide Kings, so I was delightfully surprised how everyman he seems on this show. He keeps a perfect mix of the naive and the incredulous going. Paula Marshall as his ex is equally excellent. I loved her work on Californication, and she continues the trend of excellent work here. She manages to be both hard on our hero Gary while also remaining sympathetic. Casting Ed Begley Jr. as the awkward therapist was a master stroke, and his performance really raises the bar when he's on-screen.
Although an average of seven episodes are squeezed onto each of the three discs, the video is clean and bright and looks about as good as a broadcast sitcom should. The audio isn't anything special, but the dialogue is easy to follow. Extras include a mess of bloopers, a featurette following Jay Mohr during filming, a featurette on Ed Begley Jr.'s contribution to the show, and a standard EPK-style featurette on the show.
If I were to rewrite Dante's Inferno, a special rung of Hell would be reserved for the team that developed the laugh track. It's an insulting, overused device that attempts to goad the viewer into acting like a good sheep. Hearing real laughs from real people is generally a good thing, but the group who were recorded for Gary Unmarried's laugh track are an obnoxious bunch and their laughter actively distracts from what the actors are saying and doing. The option to turn off the laugh track on DVDs would be a glorious boon to sitcom fans everywhere.
As a show, Gary Unmarried goes for a particularly family oriented kind of comedy, and those with little experience with or care for divorce, therapy, or raising children might want to skip this one.
Gary Unmarried isn't go to top the list of all-time best sitcoms, but it offers excellent performances from a talented cast and keeps the jokes coming often enough to warrant a viewing from fans of situation comedy. This three-disc set includes a decent audiovisual presentation and enough extras to give fans some context.
Gary may be unmarried, but he's also not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: ABC Studios
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 424 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Not Rated