Even though this sitcom's Grounded, Judge George Hatch got a charge as the jokes flew lightning fast.
"I'm not a duh dad. I'm like a Whoo-hoo! dad!"—Sean Finnerty
After watching the first three episodes of Grounded for Life when it originally aired in 2001, I started taping the show, even taking the time to use my pause button to edit out commercials. I thought it was that good—and hilariously off the wall! The writing was sharp, funny, and occasionally raunchy for a prime-time family show. The premise of younger-than-TV-average parents still learning to raise a family was clever and spirited. What hooked me were the flashbacks within flashbacks, the dizzyingly surreal dream sequences, and the frenzied, near-psychedelic editing that that sent events pinballing through time and space for a knockout punchline.
Grounded for Life drew a loyal and enthusiastic following, but not enough to please the Fox network which cancelled the show after three seasons. There was such an outpouring of protest that the WB immediately picked it up for another two years. Now the show airs on the ABC Family network, but it's been edited for more commercial time, some questionable words are muffled on the soundtrack, and each episode's comic coda is eclipsed by promotional ads with voiceovers for other shows.
Anchor Bay has resolved this situation by releasing Grounded for Life: Season One in an unedited format that restores the show's integrity and all of the audacious elements intact together with a wealth of extras that includes full commentaries for 10 of the 20 episodes.
What's so unique and exceptional about Grounded for Life, you ask? Here's the scoop.
Facts of the Case
After a high-school fling with enough money for beer but not for condoms, Sean and Claudia Finnerty (Donal Logue, The Tao of Steve, and Megyn Price, LateLine) found themselves pregnant and married at 18. In other words, they'd been "grounded for life." Now in their early 30s and living on Staten Island, Sean works for the New York City subway system "10 hours a day in a stinking, rat-infested tunnel" while Claudia earns extra money as a hostess in a Chinese restaurant. They're trying to teach their kids adult responsibilities, but their efforts are tinged with regret. Claudia still sees a lot of herself in their rebellious 15-year-old daughter, Lily (Lynsey Bartilson, Party of Five) and vicariously relives the teen's tenth-grade shenanigans and randy romantic roistering. Sean is still a kid at heart and plays with his two sons more like another boy than a father, right down to a vigorous chase through the house with pneumatic water guns.
Jimmy (Griffin Frazen, Landers), their oldest son, is on the verge of puberty and experiencing "weird feelings about girls." His younger brother Henry (Jake Burbage Dora the Explorer) is a puckish youngster with an alarming predilection for madcap mischief. "Can I pray for the power to blow things up with my mind?" Sean wants to be a good father and cool Dad at the same time, so his decisions in rearing the boys are often misguided and biased by his "inner kid."
Sean's kind of nurturing is a constant embarrassment to his own widowed father, Walt (Richard Riehle, Mysterious Skin), who tried to raise his sons with an old-school iron hand. "There will be spankings!" This creates a unique dynamic between these two characters, but any clout Walt tries to exercise in the Finnerty household is virtually ignored, much to his exasperation. Then there's Eddie (Kevin Corrigan, The Honeymooners), Sean's malingering brother, a slacker who "just isn't made to work in the nine-to-five world." Eddie boasts of criminal connections and always knows "somebody who can get you what you want." While half of Staten Island is usually tracking him down and beating him up for some scam, the other half, "the ladies," love him—at least long enough for a one-night stand.
Two other characters figure prominently in the Finnerty's lives. Brad O'Keefe (Bret Harrison, Orange County) is the nerdy, moony-eyed boy next door who has a crush on Lily. She insists the feelings aren't mutual, claiming that she's too sophisticated to be involved with such a dweeb. "Brad wears a fanny pack, carries too many keys and pronounces the 't' in 'often.'" But when she suspects Brad may be seeing another girl, her "settings go from rage to screaming rage," and Lily is one hell of a screamer. Sister Helen (Miriam Flynn, Waiting for Guffman) is the principal of the school Sean and Claudia refer to as "Our Lady of the Perpetual Shakedown." Like Walt, she's a traditionalist when it comes to education, but her rule and ruler reign supreme in her territory. Sister Helen can be something of a shyster when it comes to raising funds for the school and she's wicked with quips and personalized attacks. "Sorry, Mr. Finnerty, but I don't have the time to discuss the aesthetic limitations of The Ramones" (Sean and Claudia's favorite group), she says.
So what are the Finnertys and friends are up to?
Grounded for Life: Season One contains the following episodes, and those followed by an asterisk feature commentaries:
• Lily B. Goode*—Lily makes out with her goofy
neighbor, Brad, while Walt baby-sits Jimmy and Henry, and Eddie tries to
illegally hook up cable to watch soft-core porn.
• In My Room*—Sean and Claudia confront Lily about
her fake ID and investigate a suspicious e-mail she received about an upcoming
• I Wanna Be Suspended*—Sean and Claudia take Jimmy
to see The Ramones, causing him to miss a science project deadline. Sean appeals
to Jimmy's principal, Sister Helen, but she suspends the boy anyway.
• Devil with a Plaid Shirt—Jimmy's claims of demonic
possession and Lily's short skirts bring about another confrontation between
Sean and Sister Helen.
• Action Mountain High*—Sean is called to pick up a
stranded Lily and her friends at an amusement park. When he learns the kids have
played him for a sucker, he seeks revenge by calling their parents.
• You Can't Always Get What You Want—Sean and
Claudia can't afford to send Lily on a ski trip with her classmates and she's
furious. She flips when she learns that Sean inherited some money and bought
himself a guitar.
• Like a Virgin*—In an attempt to bond with Lily,
Claudia takes her on a shopping trip to New Jersey. She fits right in with
Lily's cheerleader friends and accidentally reveals that Lily is still a
• Devil's Haircut*—Sean is responsible for Henry's
butcher-job haircut and Claudia is livid. With Eddie's help, Lily scores tickets
for a No Doubt rock concert and plans to use them to increase her popularity.
• Eddie's Dead—Eddie's shifty past is recalled when
he wants to hit on Claudia's broken-hearted friend. Sean concludes that Walt
always preferred Eddie to himself.
• Catch Us If You Can*—Sean catches a fly ball that
is still in play and loses a game for the Yankees. And irate mob of fans chases
him home interrupting Claudia's bachelorette party. Even a male stripper dressed
as a cop threatens to punch Sean in the face and arrest him.
• Jimmy's Got a Gun—Walt gives Jimmy a BB gun for
his birthday and causes chaos on the Finnerty home front. Sean accidentally
shoots Walt in the butt and he's rushed to the hospital. Still angry with his
father, Sean tells the doctors that Walt is there for adult circumcision.
• Jimmy Was Kung-Fu Fighting*—Sean and Claudia work
extra shifts trying to save for a vacation in Cancun. Eddie baby-sits the boys,
Lily gets her tongue pierced, Jimmy is terrorized by the school bully, and Henry
starts street entertaining for food and eating out of dumpsters.
• Loser—While Sean is refereeing Henry's soccer
team, he learns that two unethical decisions do not make a right one. Sean tries
to boost Henry's confidence while Lily spends her time flirting with the boy at
the concession and believes she's found true love.
• Mrs. Finnerty, You've Got a Lovely Daughter—Lily
thinks she and her friends were booed off the stage at the school talent show,
but Sean and Claudia have some explaining to do. In order to stop Lily's
performance, Sean tries to bribe Sister Helen by buying cases of chocolate bars
for the school's fund-raising campaign.
• Baby, You Can't Drive My Car*—Lily and Brad
accidentally smash the family car and then seek Eddie's help in covering up the
• Dream On*—Claudia has a sexy dream about Eddie
that leaves Sean shocked and insecure. Sean and Claudia recount past experiences
and try to find out when—and if—the spark between them was lost.
• Rubber Sold—At the drug store, Sean and Eddie spot
Lily's boyfriend Brad buying condoms. Sean assures Claudia that he knows how to
best handle the situation.
• Let's Talk About Sex, Henry—Claudia and Sean have
impromptu sex in Jimmy's bed when Henry walks in and asks what they're doing.
Jimmy starts sleeping in every room but his own because now his bed is too
• Is She Really Going Out with Walt?—When Walt's
girlfriend dumps him, Sean and Claudia decide he needs a hobby: bowling. Lily
catches Brad hanging out with her best friend and plans revenge.
• Love Child—Lily is shocked to learn that she was
born before Sean and Claudia were married. She feels frustrated and disgraced,
so Sean tries to explain how and why she was conceived in the backseat of a Ford
• Bonus Features
Grounded for Life was created by Bill Martin and Mike Schiff, whose previous show was the surprisingly successful 3rd Rock from the Sun. With the working title of "Don't Get Me Started" they wanted to "make another series that people hadn't seen before," so they decided that each show would "open with some kind of family disaster then tell the story of how it happened backward through flashbacks." It's a brilliant concept and the execution is faultless. And instead of typical sitcom schmaltz aimed at your comfort zone, Grounded for Life keeps poking you in the eye and busting your gut.
With several storylines being pursued in each episode, the show's fragmented approach gave Grounded for Life a Mad Magazine-style presentation, and as with that iconic publication, I found that the more attention you paid, the more laughs you got. The Mad margins featured a wealth of subversive "asides" and panel inserts you had to watch for, and Grounded has so much going on in the background and in the non-sequitur dialogue, second and third viewings are not only suggested but required.
The entire cast is razor sharp in their characterizations and throw themselves into their roles, pushing absurdity to the limit before spinning back to the eccentric and ironic realities of their far-from-routine daily lives. Logue and Price have a natural chemistry and imbue Sean and Claudia with a youthful exuberance that takes precedence over maturity; they still act like a couple of teenagers in love. Lynsey Bartilson plays a high school hottie with more than enough nubile assets to steam up the boys. She can sing and dance up a storm, too, as evidenced in the Emmy-nominated episode, "Mrs. Finnerty, You've Got a Lovely Daughter" in which she delivers a saucy rendition of "Big Spender" with a few of her scantily-clad classmates.
But it's Kevin Corrigan as Eddie who steals every scene he's in. His fraudulent schemes rarely pay off, but he always brags about his success. When he tries to dupe a three-card monte dealer and gets caught, he claims he "busted up their urban crime ring and made $20 to boot." After scalping tickets to an old Yankee game, he tells the suckers, "It was a great game! Those are valuable memorabilia!" Perhaps my favorite line is from "Eddie's Dead," in which he fakes his death to get away from an overbearing woman. When she spots him on the street, he acts like a ghost and tells her, "I've come back from the dead just to tell you to let go." Corrigan's line delivery is a cross between the real Marlon Brando and a lousy Brando impressionist; his spastic body language can draw big laughs without a word being spoken.
In addition to 10 excellent and behind-the-scenes informative half-hour commentaries, Grounded for Life: Season One has about 40 minutes of extras including, "Meet the Finnerty's, an interview with Donal Logue, "Claudia: Not the Sitcom Mom" with Megyn Price, "Life with Lily" featuring Lynsey Bartilson, and an interview with creators Mike Schiff and Bill Martin. Everyone expresses genuine affection and respect for each other, the writing, and the series' basic premise. This isn't the usual self-congratulatory backslapping; the camaraderie and spontaneity is evident in every episode. There is one minute of lame "Bloopers" you can skip and about seven minutes of "Season One Highlights." These are, indeed, funny but I suggest watching them as a recap after you've seen the entire season. Remember: they are virtually time-traveling punchlines and are even funnier when set up through the flashbacks.
Anchor Bay's full-frame transfers are fine for a television show and the colors are appropriately cartoon rich. Claudia's and Lily's outrageous costumes literally pop off the TV screen. There is some occasional ghosting with objects and people in the far background, but not enough to be distracting. The Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo is crisp and clear. Subtitles aren't provided and aren't really necessary, but it would have been convenient to have them during the commentaries.
Grounded for Life: Season One gave me the pleasure of tossing out those old VHS tapes, and I'll dump the next batch when Season Two is released in May. Don't pass up the opportunity to catch one of the funniest sitcoms in recent memory. If you like the originality and zaniness of Malcolm in the Middle, you should definitely check out Grounded for Life. It's an even better show.
Not guilty! Hey, a Grounded for Life reunion show would be a welcome and official finale to this excellent series.
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