Lionsgate // 2002 // 464 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Patrick Bromley // September 16th, 2010
Behind every successful woman is a bunch of creeps who want her job.
Call me crazy, but I enjoy the sitcom as an art form. It hasn't always been easy, particularly when there are so few good examples when compared to the sheer numbers that are launched every year (or used to be launched; it's not the viable commodity it once was). But like horror movies and romantic comedies -- which both have a similar wheat-to-chaff ratio -- I find even the worst among them incredibly easy to watch and, in their own way, oddly comforting. Maybe it's just because I grew up on so many of them, though I suspect there's more to it than that. The landscape has been so polluted by bad sitcoms that it's easy to forget just how respectable accomplishment a really good sitcom is: it has to provide colorful, compelling characters, tell 22 different stories and be funny inside the economical time frame of 22 minutes. Rail against the form all you want, but that's not easy to do.
As a sitcom fan, it's been interesting to watch the transformation that the genre has undergone in the last decade. As more subtle, inventive and, yes, funny single-camera shows like Arrested Development, The Office and 30 Rock hit the air and picked up devoted followings and critical adoration, the sitcom as we had previously known it began to feel stale and utterly out of date (with a few exceptions; CBS staples like Two and a Half Men, How I Met Your Mother and The Big Bang Theory are keeping three-camera traditions alive). The 2000s, for the most part, have sounded the death rattle for the traditional three-camera sitcom.
Squeezing in just under the wire is Less Than Perfect, a largely-forgotten ABC sitcom which ran for four seasons in the early-to-mid 2000s without ever standing out, but which has nevertheless developed a cult following over the years. As workplace sitcoms go, it's no NewsRadio. Heck, it's not even Just Shoot Me!. It's too generic to stand out, despite a talented and colorful cast and the occasional good joke (it doesn't hurt that future Arrested Development creator Mitch Hurwitz is a producer). It's the kind of sitcom where all the jokes are telegraphed by obvious set-ups, then overly punctuated by the constant, obnoxious drone of canned laughter. Even if you couldn't speak a word of English, you'd know exactly what was going on and where all the jokes were -- they all have that cadence and timing of sitcom jokes.
Less Than Perfect focuses on Claudia (Sara Rue, Pearl Harbor), a permanent temp serving a life sentence for a New York-based media outlet until she's one day promoted to assistant for the most popular news anchor in the city, Will Butler (Eric Roberts, Depth Charge). The rest of the cast is made up entirely of "types." There are Claude's two best friends, sassy Ramona (Sherri Shepherd, Cellular) and oddball Owen (Andy Dick, Reality Bites), as well as her sniveling competition on the 22nd floor: cold, sneaky Kipp (Zachary Levi, Chuck) and materialistic Lydia (Andrea Parker, ER). The plots are all pretty familiar: Claudia struggles at work, Claudia struggles with her evil co-workers, only to learn they're warm and soft on the inside; Claudia tries to find love and balance a career and blah blah blah. I kept wishing throughout the season that the show would take more narrative chances. I guess since this is the first season, Less Than Perfect had to find its footing first. There are very few sitcoms that realized their full potential right out of the gate (once again, Arrested Development is that incredibly rare beast), so I shouldn't really hold this show to such a high standard. It's pleasant enough, but not much more.
The best reason to give Less Than Perfect a look -- and what drew me to this DVD release in the first place -- is the lead performance by Sara Rue, a character actor who toiled away for years in bit parts before finally getting her own vehicle with this show. Of course, much was and is made about how Rue is an "unconventional" leading lady for TV, which is really just code for the fact that she's not the size of a typical Hollywood actress but is actual human size. And, truth be told, she's great looking and interesting to look at in a way that very few actresses are (of course, she subsequently went on to lose a bunch of weight and go blonde, so that she could look like everyone else; it worked and she did. Now she's doing ads for Weight Watchers, and while I'm all for people being healthy I'd be lying if I said I didn't miss the old Sara Rue -- the one who had character). Like most of the cast of the show, it takes Rue a while to find her footing; for many of the first episodes, you can feel her anticipating and overselling the jokes. She feels less like a TV actress and more like a student in a high school play (she's not alone, either -- Eric Roberts never gets comfortable doing comedy, and the stunt casting shoots itself in the foot). Eventually, though, Rue finds the character: insecure, sweet, self-deprecating, hopelessly optimistic but always prepared for disappointment. It's a neat character for the lead of a network sitcom, and Rue is able to play her (eventually) in a way that we haven't quite seen before. So many things about Less Than Perfect feel stock and familiar, but Rue isn't one of them.
All 22 episodes making up Less Than Perfect: Season One are collected on this no-frills DVD set courtesy of Lionsgate, spread out over four discs. The shows are presented in an anamorphic widescreen format in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, which is a nice surprise since I didn't really think that sitcoms were broadcasting in widescreen back in the early 2000s. The shows are colorful and poppy and a lot of fun to look at, and the DVD transfer does a great job of bringing that to the screen. The audio is a traditional stereo track, keeping all the dialogue front and center and only making use of the surrounding channels for that obnoxious, never-ending laugh track. The best thing that can be said about it is that it does the job. There is not a single extra in the entire DVD collection.
At the very least, it's nice to see that a show which never made much of a splash can still get a DVD release; even an unremarkable set like this is likely to please Less Than Perfect's cult following. And, as if the fact that show is seeing the light of day on DVD isn't already good enough news for fans, here's something even better: the episodes have finally been placed in their correct production order. ABC shifted things around when originally airing the show, and while it isn't really a series that depends on continuity (most episodes are little closed loops), it's always a good thing when something is set right. Less Than Perfect is hardly the highest achievement of the sitcom form, but it is a moderately agreeable diversion that passes by with surprising quickness and ease. It's decent at its best, hackneyed and forgettable at its worst. At least there's Sara Rue.
It's all there in the name.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 464 Minutes
Release Year: 2002
MPAA Rating: Not Rated