If you're Judge Brett Cullum, and you're writing a review of a failed sitcom's "complete season" DVD on a Kaypro computer rigged up to run off of a grain-alcohol-fueled generator perched in the bed of the El Camino that's up on blocks in your front yard next to Grandma's ammunition chest... you just might be a redneck.
Our review of The Jeff Foxworthy Show: The Complete Second Season, published May 13th, 2009, is also available.
You might be a redneck if you like this show.
Lately we've seen a redneck renaissance, what with all the "Blue Collar Comedy" specials and television shows popping up everywhere. NASCAR racing has become one of the nation's most-watched sports, and people eat lots of pork rinds (thanks to Dr. Atkins and rednecks). Jeff Foxworthy is hot again, so it made sense to drag out his long-forgotten television series, which lasted two seasons on two networks. The Jeff Foxworthy Show: The Complete First Season covers the year the show was on ABC. Jeff was in Indiana, and the show struggled to find its own identity. You'll really see two different sitcoms here, because they changed the cast halfway through the season. What went South? Well, it's got nothing to do with Mr. Foxworthy! He's a likable guy who had a very funny stand-up routine, and his show should have been another Roseanne or Home Improvement. Problem is, it wasn't.
Facts of the Case
During this first season (aired on ABC in 1995-1996) Jeff lived in Indiana with his rather regal wife, played by Anita Barone (The Sex Monster). It's a typical fish-out-of-water scenario, with Foxworthy going up against snooty neighbors and grand in-laws as he tries to make a go of running a heating and air business. Haley Joel Osment (The Sixth Sense) plays their son, and he's always a highlight. During the first half of the run the show concentrated on Jeff and his relationship with two co-workers: Russ (Matt Borlenghi, DinoCroc) and Walt (Matt Clark, Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh). They were jettisoned from the show about halfway through the series, and replaced with Jay Mohr (Go, Last Comic Standing), as Jeff's redneck brother Wayne. Also entering at the halfway mark was Debra Jo Rupp (the mom from That '70s Show, Clockwatchers) as Jeff's sister-in-law, fresh off a divorce. Queer as Folk fans will get a kick from seeing Michelle Clunie (Melanie) making several episode appearances as Wayne's fiancée. Whoa! Did anyone not end up working on this show? I halfway expected Ted Knight or Gary Coleman to drop in as estranged relatives at any minute.
You get eighteen episodes here, including one that never aired during the original network run of the show ("Showdown at the Comedy Central"). The show is presented in a dazzling full screen ratio, just as it was originally produced. The transfer is shockingly clean, and reveals details that actually work against the show. It's so clean you notice how artificial everything looks on this sitcom. It's not a bad package, except it has no extras whatsoever. Fans hoping for some explanation of what happened will never get it. But do rednecks like commentaries and interview segments? Obviously one redneck was not asked to provide them. The sound is a typical broadcast stereo, so nothing to complain about there.
Jeff Foxworthy is a good-natured, funny, likable guy. The show should have worked like duct tape (which is the ultimate redneck repair item). Shows like Roseanne, Home Improvement and Seinfeld took the best elements of a stand-up comedian's routines and made them work. Yet here, the show never lets Jeff play to his strengths, leading me to suspect he was not as involved with the development and script-writing as he should have been (network suits ruined it). The Northern setting was wrong, his wife was stiff and seemed above him, the glitzy in-laws were ridiculous, and they never did anything to repair fundamental flaws in the show (like it not being all that funny). It utilized a laugh track, which always makes things seem canned and forced. Every punchline gets a raucous guffaw as if it were comedy gold, and it just wasn't. Even when Jay Mohr shows up the wrongness continues. First off, you have a Brooklyn boy playing Southern, complete with mullet and beer can in hand. Mohr was severely miscast. Even when both comedians could have shined—in the "Showdown at the Comedy Central" episode—neither Mohr nor Foxworthy do their usual stand-up routines. There is no richness to the characters, just stereotypical sitcom situations.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
It still has some funny moments, and hopefully Season Two will see the light of day as well. The second NBC season relocated Jeff to Georgia, married him off to Ann Cusack (sister to John and Joan), and added Jonathan Lipnicki to the mix. They say the show was killed by Everybody Loves Raymond, against which it was scheduled. Yeah, I can see that. It's easy to like this show—it's just hard to love it. It's cute! And if you fancy Jeff Foxworthy in a more unnatural way, he does appear shirtless in almost every episode. Don't ask me why that happens. It just does. Think of it as a bonus feature.
I like Southern humor, and find myself not minding The Jeff Foxworthy show. It was what it was: a simple, silly sitcom that never really worked. Fans will be glad to see it on the shelves, and the uninitiated will pass it by in the aisles. No reason to really check it out, unless you want to see Foxworthy flail around in a sitcom. He's much funnier now that he's realized what his biggest asset is…himself. With more of his unique voice, this show could have been a contender.
All studio executives associated with this show are hereby sentenced to five years on the NASCAR circuit to get the demographics right next time. They also have to subsist on pig's feet and beer. Jeff, we're glad you're back in true redneck form. Jay Mohr? What was your agent thinking? You need to bitch slap him for this one.
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