Shout! Factory // 2010 // 270 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Tom Becker (Retired) // April 20th, 2011
A good manny is hard to find.
One-time child stars Melissa Joan Hart and Joey Lawrence are back in this Who's the Boss? redux.
Melissa Burke (Melissa Joan Hart, Sabrina, the Teenage Witch) is a local politician who's raising her teenage niece and nephew -- Lennox and Ryder -- after their parents are indicted for securities fraud. While Mom is sadly but safely in jail, Dad's on the lam.
Already an overextended ditz, Melissa finds herself overwhelmed at the prospect of navigating these kids through adolescence, so she decides to hire a nanny.
Who should show up at her door but Joe Longo (Joey Lawrence, Blossom), a financial whiz whose life has gone to the dogs thanks to Melissa's duplicitous sister and brother-in-law. Having lost his job, his home, and wife, he's now living in his car -- which is about to be repossessed. Despite their contentious introduction and immediate enmity, Melissa hires Joe to be her new manny.
Since it airs on ABC Family, I assumed Melissa & Joey would be a kid-centric sitcom along the lines of Full House or Boy Meets World. At the very least, since it seems a direct descendent (if not outright knock off) of Who's the Boss, I figured it would offer up a "will they or won't they?" coupling along with sitcom-cute moppets and life-lesson moralizing at every turn.
Imagine my surprise when Melissa & Joey instead turned out to be an engaging, moppet-free little comedy with a decidedly grown-up slant that's more interested in delivering laughs than homilies.
Yes, Melissa Joan Hart and Joey Lawrence are now grown ups, in their mid-30s, as a matter of fact. Hart and Lawrence have been acting since they were toddlers and are clearly comfortable in the sitcom format. They have a natural chemistry, so we have an easy time buying into the whole premise. Wisely, the writers, at least at this point, are steering clear of any sort of romantic entanglement between the leads. Their slightly condescending and antagonistic attitudes toward each other don't seem to be masking deeper feelings of attraction. As the overambitious and frequently bungling politico, Hart has the showier role, and she's very good. Lawrence -- whose shaved head and buff physique are subject to a fair number of jokes -- brings a lot of charisma to his role as a guy who's fallen from grace and is now adjusting to a new life and a new family.
The episodes pretty much center on the adults, though the kids aren't mere props.
Ryder (Nick Robinson) and Lennox (Taylor Spreitler, Days of Our Lives), actually come off as reasonably typical high schoolers -- "reasonably" as far as sitcoms go. They're not wisecracking automatons, and they're not perfect specimens of young Americana. Ryder is well-meaning but geeky and sensitive, while Lennox is a girl who's growing up a little too fast; she's not exactly Kelly Bundy, but she's a far cry from the sweetly responsible D.J. Tanner. The fact that their parents are white-collar criminals factors into a few of the episodes, and the writers actually put a fairly interesting spin on this.
The episodes move along briskly and avoid the cloying sweetness and boiler-plate story-morals that make so many "family" sitcoms unbearable. The writing is actually pretty sharp, with some solid one-liners and humor coming from the personalities of the characters, including Joe's discomfort at going from wealthy financier to domestic help and Melissa's sometimes desperate attempts to impress as a politician. That sitcom vets Hart and Lawrence have great timing really helps put this over.
Shout! Factory has given us Melissa & Joey: Season One, Part One, which consists of the first 12 episodes spread over two discs. As you'd expect from a recent vintage TV show, these look and sound just fine. Supplements include a blooper reel, "featurettes" that are actually family life-oriented questions posed to the stars, and brief promo for the rest of the season.
I've never watched ABC Family. I just assumed it was sort of like the Disney Channel, featuring shows that could be enjoyed by...well, the whole family.
Even though it features teenagers and a nontraditional family unit, Melissa & Joey is not "all ages" television. Much of the humor skews adult and some jokes, while funny, are downright crude.
In the opening moments of the pilot, Melissa finds out about an obscene poem Lennox wrote about her principal, Ms. Lunt, and notes with horror that the girl used a particularly nasty word to rhyme with "Lunt." Later, Joe makes a joke that uses "vagina" as a punchline. There are scenes of Melissa going to bed with a man she's just met and a bit in which Joe declines to have sex with a woman and then has to deal with, shall we say, an unwelcome disturbance in his pants. Melissa often makes references to her wild youth, which obviously included drinking and sleeping around. When she objects to Joe throwing out some of her trashy looking old "party clothes," he asks if they should donate them to a museum instead -- the "Slutsonian." "Nuts in a vice," "pissed," "bitch," "ass," and "douchey" are also casually tossed out. Also, as I noted above, most episodes deal with the adults and their problems, and the writers often make references that kids might just not catch.
While a lot of this is pretty funny, and it makes the show more satisfying than the typical "pandering to the kids" stuff that's the staple of "family" viewing, it just seems odd to find it under the ABC Family banner. If this were on a different network -- TVLand, which features the adult-skewing Hot in Cleveland, for instance -- I wouldn't give it a second thought. But viewers tuning in expecting to find the kind of "family friendly" fare that ABC used to run, like Home Improvement or Family Matters, might be in for a surprise.
There are a lot of terrible family comedies out there; Melissa & Joey is neither terrible nor particularly family oriented, but it's pretty well done. It's not "appointment TV" (does that even exist anymore in the world of DVR?), but it's as good as, if not better than, many current network sitcoms, offering solid writing, some pretty funny jokes, and attractive and engaging leads.
Review content copyright © 2011 Tom Becker; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Shout! Factory
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 270 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Blooper Reel
* Official Site