It’s painful to note that six shows from The A.V. Club’s Worst TV of 2011 list were renewed this season (counting the last-minute reprieve seemingly granted to Unforgettable). Some of the shows on that list were highly expensive failures (Charlie’s Angels), some sputtered off without so much as a whimper (I Hate My Teenage Daughter), while others presented inscrutable reasons for making it to the air in the first place (H8R). But not Retired At 35, which managed to impart that 1980s sitcom vibe 30 years too late. It’s a cookie-cutter sitcom repeating the same motions as countless others before it, and at this point it’s unclear whether anyone on the cast is even having fun going through those motions. They look tired already, and “Up North” is only the show’s 11th episode.
TV Land sitcoms are multiplying—The Soul Man just joined Retired At 35, Hot In Cleveland, The Exes, and Happily Divorced to round out the lineup—and they all seem to follow the same formula: Throw at least one reasonably recognizable face (George Segal and Jessica Walter here, Cedric The Entertainer, Betty White, Fran Drescher, and others elsewhere) into a sea of other thankful-to-be-working actors and cycle them through sitcom plots borrowed from the reruns in the TV Land vault.
The plot of the second-season première is largely irrelevant, but it does show that Retired At 35 is shifting from David as the main character to more of an ensemble feel. That doesn’t really matter, because it’s just trading one brand of recycled situations for another. David’s childhood crush Jessica, and her adopted mom—who David slept with in the pilot and Alan slept with in the season finale—are both gone, and the focus is on getting Segal and Walter back together. Walter does her best with the material, trying to squeeze just one laugh out of hackneyed bits, but despite what the invisible strangers on the laugh track think, there just isn’t enough there.
And who’s the big retooling savior? Marissa Jaret Winokur, most notable for her Tony-winning performance originating the role of Tracy Turnblad in the original Broadway production of Hairspray 10 years ago (and making it to the semifinals of the sixth season of Dancing With The Stars). Casey Wilson originally played the role, but she’s managed to move onto much better things over on Happy Endings.
Even major network dreck like Whitney or hack-job cable filler like Franklin & Bash can be relied on for just a few laughs; Retired At 35 might be the first comedy I’ve watched in the past 12 months that has absolutely no laughs. Zero. Zilch. Nada. Not a single laugh in the entire episode. But that statistic isn’t a measure of how funny the material is—rather, I think it’s indicative of just how aggressively derivate every single joke is. A cavalcade of old-people-having-sex jokes—based on subjects including impotence, oversharing with children, lack of bikini-wax knowledge—are the most egregious examples, but the worst part is the pacing. Everyone on the show speaks in such a slow, measured cadence, with wide-open pauses for the laugh track. It’s as though TV Land is aiming for viewers with hearing problems, despite the possibility that most of that age bracket won’t be awake when Retired At 35 airs.
Original programming on a network like TV Land occupies a strange position, since the station is founded on the idea of showcasing classic television. When it’s showing new programs, there’s undoubtedly a rerun of something better on another station for cable and satellite viewers who own a package that includes TV Land. Shows like Hot In Cleveland and Retired At 35 have to approximate the classic sitcom style of yesteryear while at the same time being less expensive than the syndication rights to old network hits.
Hot In Cleveland is fine background noise and a decent attempt at extending the life of the multi-camera form, but the rest of the TV Land original lineup doesn’t feel in line with that tradition. These shows feel like knock-offs of a knock-off, and Retired At 35 arrived as such a misfire that some simple retooling won’t do the trick. Keeping Walter in some capacity could yield some good work down the road, and the supporting cast as currently constituted has potential, but the overall thrust of the show is so rough and uncertain—even when essentially producing a facsimile of well-worn sitcom tropes—that “Up North” remains as bland and boring as any episode from the first season. Retired At 35 is neither good enough to leave on in the background, nor a miserable enough failure to merit gawking.
- It didn’t surprise me that the show had already used Amy as a character, but I was stunned to find out that Casey Wilson was the one-episode stand-in. After getting dropped from Saturday Nigh Live and before Happy Endings unexpectedly took off, she must have been in a dark place.
- One of the promos during a commercial break showed Betty White with dyed red hair on Hot In Cleveland, which earned my only laugh for the half-hour—and only for its sheer ridiculousness.