As far as I know, Jay Mohr is a perfectly nice guy. But when he plays a perfectly nice guy, I just don't believe him. I believed him as Tom Cruise's sleazy rival in Jerry Maguire. And I believed him as the spawn-of-Griffin-Mill in the one episode of Action I saw. But Jay Mohr doesn't fit in just anywhere, especially anywhere that requires him to seem sincere. Maybe that's why he's spent most of this decade drifting through parts in films like The Adventures Of Pluto Nash to a gig on The Ghost Whisperer, of all shows.

The new sitcom Gary Unmarried (formerly Project Gary) doesn't seem likely to provide a more permanent home. I'll admit upfront that I may not be the ideal audience for a traditional sitcom with wisecracking kids, but as little affection as I have for something like Two And A Half Men, I'll admit that the show works for what it is. This pilot, however, feels stiff. It wouldn't be the first premiere episode to need a little oil here and there, but it didn't leave me wanting to see what happens next.

As for what happens here, we open on a post-coital Mohr in bed with Jamie King (Sin City). She's a client. He's a house painter, and this is the first time he's slept with a woman since divorcing wife Paula Marshall (Nip/Tuck, Spin City). Marshall and Mohr share custody of a son who's shy around girls and a daughter who we find out (in one of the episodes best lines as far as the laugh track is concerned) pastes pictures of Al Gore next to her bed. But the complications don't end there: A later scene has Marshall admitting to Mohr that she's engaged to their older marriage counselor (Ed Begley Jr., a pro as always). And a still later scene reveals that King has a wisecracking kid of their own.

Can this group somehow form a family? That seems to be the question at the heart of Gary Unmarried. I appreciate its attempts to stay gentle and not create any villains in this unconventional arrangement. The script has barbs but none of them have a hateful sting.

What it needs is laughs. When Mohr's son expresses his unease about having a female classmate over at his house he says, "What if she expects me to, you know, tap it?" I strained to hear sides splitting across America at that line. Maybe the laugh track drowned it out.

Grade: C

Stray observations:

- Second Life plays a role in this episode. Am I out of touch or is that just so 2006?

- I've always found Jamie King incredibly stiff but she seems pretty comfortable here. So do Marshall and Begley. Maybe it's Mohr who's the problem. I just don't buy him as a blue collar, beer-happy dad, a sort of Jim Belushi-in-the-making. Maybe he can slowly turn the character into the sort of asshole he plays so well.

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