When Judge Aaron Bossig reviewed this show, the only question on his mind was "How YOU doin'?"
Good-bye Friends, hello family!
There are a few ways to make a successful spin-off by transplanting a character from one TV series into another. Joey took off on the Frasier model. Let's see how it works.
Facts of the Case
After years living in New York and working as a struggling actor, Joey Tribbiani (Matt LeBlanc, Friends) moves to L.A to finally make it big. Replacing friends Ross, Rachel, Phoebe, Monica, and Chandler are now his family, Gina (Drea de Matteo, The Sopranos) and Michael (Paulo Costanzo, 40 Days and 40 Nights). With a new agent, Bobbie (Jennifer Coolidge, Legally Blonde) he's ready to take Hollywood by storm.
Joey follows the Frasier model to a "T." Take one character from a popular sitcom (Joey), move him to a city across the country (L.A.) and remove him from everyone he knew in the previous show (Ross, Rachel, and the rest). To help him adjust to a new city, he'll instead have his family (Gina). This lets us get a different perspective on him. Family tends to form a more intimate bond than do friends, so this is a good opportunity to get to know the character better.
Whereas in the prior series, the character might have been the goofball comic relief (he was), being surrounded by family can turn him from a fish-out-of-water to one of the norm (for instance, Niles and Frasier). To re-introduce diversity, we add a third character, preferably from a different generation (for Frasier, it was Martin; on Joey, it's Michael). This character shares the family bond, but the personality is different enough to create comic tension. Of course, we do still need characters to bring in external conflict; a series lead needs a buddy and a co-worker to spar with, so Joey introduces Alex (Andrea Anders, The Stepford Wives), the insecure neighbor and Bobbie, Joey's tactless agent. Comparisons can be made to Roz and Bulldog as you see fit.
Getting started watching Joey is pretty easy: the humor is in much of the same tone as the better seasons of Friends, so loyal fans following Joey will feel right at home. Plenty of references pepper the show, from the Magna-Doodle message board, to Hugsy the penguin, to Joey's obsession with sandwiches. Whereas every episode of Friends had a title beginning "The One With…," each episode of Joey is titled "Joey and the…" Even the theme song "Sunny Hours" is in the same tone as "I'll Be There for You." All these things are set up to say to a longtime fan "Hey, don't worry. Grab a slice of pizza and hang out with your buddy Joey. He's still the same guy." Yet, for all the effort made to existing fans, the show is totally approachable to newcomers.
If you've never seen an episode of Friends and the in-jokes are lost on you, you've suffered no great loss. You can still approach Joey as a funny show in its own right. The cast is absolutely stellar and has terrific chemistry. If Matt LeBlanc hadn't become a megastar on Friends, I'm sure starring in this show could have been his big break.
Paulo Costanzo is a confident lead, providing excellent contrast to Matt LeBlanc. Drea de Matteo surprised everyone with her successful jump from drama into comedy. Personally, I think Andrea Anders is the best new addition, with her sparking, bubbly personality offsetting the entire cast—her naïve demeanor is a great contrast to Joey's eccentric family. The writing is spot-on, and though it does borrow heavily from Friends' style, the jokes are just plain funny.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
For as much as Joey has done right, there still seems to be something missing. Is this feeling simply the result of a longtime Friends fan realizing that the show is, in fact, NOT an 11th season, but a whole new show? Or, was Joey Tribbiani's character too dependent on the chemistry of his former castmates, and unsuitable for a show of his own? It's so hard to answer a question like that in the first season, when the show itself isn't really sure of what it wants to be. All I have to go on is that by the end of this DVD set, I was caught up in the growing friendship between Joey and Alex, and hadn't given a passing thought to what Chandler and Monica were up to. The new story was as important as the old.
I guess that's a start.
Friends was a primetime institution, just like Cheers before it. It's very hard for one character to break out of the ensemble cast and make a name for himself in a solo show. Joey, however, got started on the right foot.
A mistrial has been declared. Regardless of what this Judge rules, the fate of Joey has already been decided. As of this writing, the last few episodes of Joey have been aired, and the show has come to an unceremonious close at the end of its second season. It was fun, but will never be given a chance to mature. The show, such as it is, is worth a look for avid sitcom fans, as well as returning Friends viewers seeking a sense of closure.
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