Appellate Judge Mike Pinsky thinks Jamie Lee Curtis should have done one last horror movie—in which she would be chased by Richard Lewis's hair.
"It was the greatest job I ever had."—Jamie Lee Curtis, remembering Anything But Love
There are really only a handful of sitcom premises that get recycled again and again. Stuff like: goofy father and hot wife lead a family of precocious kids. Combine one or two of these stock premises with some bad hairstyles and a laugh track, and you have an '80s sitcom. Anything But Love looks at first like one of these hybrids: "single girl in the big city" meets "crazy office." It quickly transforms into something else, a romantic comedy anchored by the odd chemistry between two unlikely sitcom leads: Jamie Lee Curtis and Richard Lewis.
Curtis is research assistant Hannah Miller, a girl alone in the big city trying to break into journalism. This Mary Tyler Moore for the '90s joins the staff of a bustling Chicago magazine under the tutelage of the king of kvetch, Marty Gold (Richard Lewis). Marty is a crack investigative journalist but a neurotic mess. What else do you expect from Richard Lewis?
From the outset, the characters are clearly delineated: Richard Lewis plays the paranoid Jewish motormouth; Jamie Lee Curtis is the level-headed, slightly naïve WASP. They have a textbook meet-cute in an airplane (she's a budding writer; he's a famous journalist—and a nervous airline traveler who needs her to get him through a bad flight).
In most romantic television comedies, the key question is usually "Will they or won't they?" When they will—and do—they show invariably goes downhill. Anything But Love was the notable exception. Pairing up the principals was the best move for the show. The brittle chemistry between Curtis and Lewis needed the up and down of an actual relationship, rather than the comical rebuffs that sustain most sitcoms for years.
The rest of the first season after the pilot leaps right into the relationship. Most romantic comedies set the principals as adversaries, giving them something to bicker about or otherwise placing some impediment between them in order to stretch out the romantic tension. Nope, they are clearly in love from the beginning. Just watching Hannah and Marty dance in the second episode, you know it won't be long before they are a full-fledged couple. Indeed, Marty's mostly-absent girlfriend, played by Wendy Malick, leaves the picture quickly, eliminating the only minor obstacle. Okay, so technically, the first two seasons limit their relationship to "best friends," but the romance is clearly there, even if the consummation won't come until later. (They won't hit the bedroom until the next DVD set.)
The series was designed as a midseason replacement, with only six test episodes. These are mildly funny, sustained almost entirely by Curtis and Lewis, with the other characters given little to do. The second season of the show retools the workplace situation. Out go the grumpy supporting characters—the acerbic editor (Louis Giambalvo) and the retired dad (Bruce Kirby)—and in comes the wacky. Ann Magnuson brings bright chaos as fashionista lead editor Catherine Hughes, always bounding in to liven up the workplace scenes with her random behavior. Only Richard Frank as fey executive assistant Jules made it through the massacre. And rightly so, since he anchors the workplace scenes with his snippy wit. On the downside, adding Hannah's best friend (and their lame "Mrs. Schmenkman" bit) just makes Hannah seem like a ditz.
Season Two also bookends each episode with a couple of minutes of Hannah and Marty just hanging around at the lunch counter before the story starts, chatting about nothing in particular. Then at the end, the two get a few minutes to summarize the "lesson" of the episode. Again, this is all less about the situation of the situation comedy and more about the characters.
Longtime readers of DVD Verdict know that I am not a fan of sitcoms. I find the gag writing forced and the characters unbelievable. And don't get me started on laugh tracks. But I have fond memories of Anything But Love from its original run and, watching it again, I could see why. The show is sustained by the crack timing of Lewis and Curtis. Curtis in particular seems liberated by the show. Remember, before Anything But Love, Curtis was known primarily for running from serial killers. But the show revealed her considerable comedic talents—and her complete lack of fear in committing to the character and material. Lewis, of course, already had lots of practice from his standup days making scripted jokes feel like the crazed ramblings of a nervous wreck. There are times, at least early on, when it is hard to believe in Lewis as a respected journalist: he just seems too frazzled and disorganized to handle the pressure. By himself, Lewis could not have carried this show but, with Curtis to bounce off of, he quickly became sympathetic, his whinging evolving into emotional vulnerability. You believe that a woman like Hannah would be attracted to this guy: he makes her laugh. (Of course, Curtis would shortly hook up with the funny and brilliant Christopher Guest in real life, so maybe she was method acting.) Or, maybe she just loves him because he has a more luxurious mane of hair than she does. And his hair seems to get taller as the show progresses…
Curtis and Lewis reunite for a commentary track over the pilot episode, in which Hannah makes her bid to join Marty's magazine with a fluff piece on tortillas. The charm is still there, and the two quickly fall back into a rhythm that makes you long for them to do another project together. They fret over Hannah's clothing choices, praise the work of Richard Frank, and generally remember the show fondly. Sitcom stalwart Robert Berlinger (who has gone on to helm many, many more television hits, including Sports Night and 3rd Rock From the Sun) offers commentary over the episode "Hotel of the Damned," an otherwise typical example of the show (Hannah and Marty are forced to share a room in a ritzy hotel) notable for being Berlinger's first big-time directing job. He calls Jamie Lee Curtis "cute" an awful lot but, well, he has a point.
There is a half-hour featurette about the show's history, from its original pilot (which placed Jamie Lee Curtis as an executive in the middle of a love triangle—a completely different show) to its many, many transformations to its unceremonious cancellation. The participants, including writers and producers, are quite candid about the turbulence—and they are unreserved in their love for the show. Spoiler mavens beware though: there is considerable talk about events in later seasons. A second, much shorter featurette, "Stories From the Set," is a more rambling collection of memories and behind-the-scenes clips that reinforce the repeated sentiments that this was a real family that enjoyed every moment of their four seasons together.
The video is a little soft, but there are no discernible flaws. The audio during the newsroom sequences conveys the noise and bustle of a busy workplace, almost burying the dialogue at times. But you expect those sorts of things with an older sitcom that nobody thought would elicit fond memories today. Anything But Love is not essential viewing, nor does it have much historical significance. It is a funny, charming, and cleverly written sitcom. Some days, isn't that all you really need? Not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary by Jamie Lee Curtis and Richard Lewis
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