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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Worst Week: "Pilot"

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Illustration for article titled Worst Week: "Pilot"

The comedy of humiliation and the comedy of miscommunication are both very tricky to pull off, and judging by the first episode, the U.S. version of the BBC series The Worst Week Of My Life–here just called Worst Week–understands the balance that it needs to strike, but still has trouble getting it exactly right.

Kyle Bornheimer is quite funny as Sam Briggs, an average schmoe who's recently impregnated his fiancé Melanie Clayton (Erinn Hayes) and is preparing to share the news with her skeptical parents. Just as in the British series, the American version follows the comedy of errors that occurs between Sam and his future in-laws over the course of one week. The pilot covers roughly one day, in which:

-Sam arrives late to the Claytons' house because he has to help a drunken female co-worker take a cab back to her apartment.

-He shows up in a makeshift plastic diaper because his co-worker throws up on his suit, then chases him out of her apartment before he can retrieve his wallet or his keys.

-He inadvertently urinates in his future mother-in-law Angela's goose-brine (and all over her kitchen floor) because after a sudden power outage, he can't find the bathroom.

-His urine puddle causes his future father-in-law Dick to slip and fall and conk his head, which the next day leads Dick to pass out in front of a funeral home, which leads Sam to mistakenly tell everyone that Dick has died.

-He sets fire to the drop-cloth covering the painting that Angela is planning to give Dick for Christmas.

Of course that's just the broad business. What makes Worst Week funny–when it is funny, which is about 60% of the time–are the reactions, whether it be Angela (well-played by Nancy Lenehan) shrieking that there's still urine on the floor after she gets the news that Dick is dead or Dick (even better-played by Kurtwood Smith) squinting coldly at Sam after Sam jokes that he's going to punch Melanie in the face.

The problem with Worst Week is that those reactions only come as the result of the broad business, and some of that broad business is a little tough to take, or is outright stupid. For farce to work, the audience has to believe in the choices the characters make–that they're either inevitable or at least solidly plausible. Sam pissing on the floor: plausible. Dick slipping on the piss: inevitable. But all the stuff that sets the episode in motion–involving the co-worker and the cab and the vomit–falls more on the contrived side of the comedy equation. It was necessary, but I kept thinking about ways that Sam could've extricated himself from this drunken drama, which means it took me a while to get past the groaning gears of the set-up and start enjoying the way the contraption moved.

The goose bit went a long way towards greasing those gears though, as did the bit where Sam tried to relay the bad news about Dick to Melanie's brother via a faulty cel phone, and wound up shouting, "You're father is dead! He's dead! He's dead!" while Angela wailed in the next room. I don't know if Worst Week can come up with enough moments like that each week to make the all the setting-up-the-dominoes material worth sitting through, but those 20 seconds alone have convinced me to tune back in to find out.

Grade: B

Stray observations:

-The U.S. version of Worst Week is being shepherded by Matt Tarses, brother of former network bigwig Jamie Tarses, and son of once-hot producer Jay Tarses, who helped bring multiple unsuccessful dramedies to the air in the '80s. It's something of a tribute to Matt's dad that Worst Week is the only single-camera, no-laugh-track show on the CBS Monday comedy schedule right now. Everyone who loathes the laugh track and loves single-camera should give thanks to the Tarses TV dynasty. (And when they do, maybe they could send some money to whomever would be responsible for getting The Slap Maxwell Story: The Complete Series DVD set to the market.)