TV Review: FOX's 'Sons of Tucson'
Tyler Labine is a funny guy, but not in this strangely plotted FOX comedy
Follow HitFix: Follow @hitfix
FOX's "Sons of Tucson" premieres on Sunday (March 14) night. That isn't terrific timing, because it means that I'm transitioning into my review of the new comedy immediately after completing my review of HBO's "The Pacific," which also premieres on Sunday night.
That doesn't mean that I'm comparing the two projects. After all, as an epic HBO war miniseries, "The Pacific" has to live up to the standards of "Band of Brothers" and "Generation Kill," which as a FOX live-action comedy, "Sons of Tucson" only has to live up to the standards of "Brothers" and "'Til Death."
But as a critic, it comes down to this: "The Pacific" is awesome and ambitious, a TV project I look forward to the entire world seeing. "Sons of Tucson" is flat and flabby and while I'm unoffended by it, I certainly don't much care whether or not people watch.
In fact, "Sons of Tucson" is probably somewhere in the upper half of FOX's recent live-action comedy development slate. It's better than any other live-action comedy FOX has aired this season and it's also better than things like "Do Not Disturb" and "Happy Hour."
But in a season that has seen the revitalization of the family comedy with "Modern Family" and "The Middle," "Sons of Tucson" hardly merits mention.
[Review after the break...]
The plot of "Sons of Tucson" is a strange one.
When their banker father is thrown in prison for his involvement in "a stock thing," the three Gunderson boys (Matthew Levy, Frank Dolce and Benjamin Stockham) flee from the Family Services authorities in their hometown and make their way across the country to Tucson by grifting and doing all manner of sketchy things. Once in Tucson, they realize they need somebody to pretend to be their father for various administrative reasons. Circumstances lead them to hire Ron Snuffkin (Tyler Labine), a homeless alcoholic in debt to local gangsters and a gift for telling outlandish lies.
While it normally wouldn't seem like a great idea to install an ethically challenged, single loner in your back shed for the purposes of prevarication, the Gundersons have problems of their own. Oldest child Brandon is having gender identification issues. Youngest brother Robby is a budding psychopath in dire need of a male role model before he begins dismembering cats and putting them in the freezer. And middle child Gary, the supposedly sensible one, is a 45-year-old trapped in a middle schooler's body, with more neuroses than any small person should bear.
There's a very sad show hidden underneath the madcap antics in "Sons of Tucson," a sad show that I keep thinking about whenever the writers attempt to justify the various plot mechanics in clumsy and expositional bursts. See, somebody's really uncomfortable with the premise for "Sons of Tucson" and I can't tell if that somebody is creator Greg Bratman or a development executive at FOX, but it's a bad mix. A comedy like this has to just own its premise and move on. Instead, every other line sounds like it came from a note reading, "Why would that need to happen?" "Why wouldn't the kids have done this?" and the result is suffocated and drained of all spontaneity.
The latter quality dooms the show, because Tyler Labine is the sort of actor who has to be given room to just play. Here, he's stuck in a role that might as well have been written for any Jack Black type -- think "Dicey's Song" meets "School of Rock" -- a disappointment, since "Reaper" was temporarily enough to convince me that there was more to Labine than just a cheaper, small-screen Black replacement. Here, he's working so hard to keep his character from being disgusting or creepy that he isn't nearly wild enough or loose enough to be funny.
The kids have also been over-pathologized since two of them were recast between the original pilot and the episode premiering Sunday. I'm not necessarily saying this decision was a bad thing. The original kids weren't funny and they certainly had no specificity. Although Robby is right on the verge of being dangerously disturbed, Stockham is an exemplary Cute Sitcom Kid and you get the sense that as with Atticus Shaffer on "The Middle," the kind of behaviors we're finding adorable in a TV comedy would have parents freaking out and seeking counseling in the real world. Oldest son Brandon has been given a bizarre assortment of character details and the writers haven't exactly committed to whether he's gay or a transexual, but I'm sure that'll all come up if the show lasts long enough. We have to like kids this quirky to laugh at them and so far, like the show itself, they're more puzzling than amusing.
"Sons of Tucson" would like to be "Malcolm in the Middle," with its unique combination of humane family dynamics and cartoonish absurdity. It's a comparison it couldn't shy from if it wanted to. Not only is Dolce's Gary mighty Malcolm-ish in his morbid hyper-maturity, but the series is produced by Justin Berfield, who left his Reese days behind him to become an increasingly prolific producer. The icing on the cake is the presence of director Todd Holland, who won two Emmys for "Malcolm" and treats "Tucson" with familiar style, right down to the framing of the individual kids. Holland can only be as inspired as the script gives him room to be and in the pilot, that consists of Labine knocking things over and the latest gag in TV's seemingly never-ending fascination with the inferno-like consequences of pouring too much lighter fluid on the grill.
Through three episodes, I don't much know what the show is going to be for "Sons of Tucson," especially since every week seems to bring up something new to puncture the premise, rather than just living within the premise. I don't know if we're really supposed to think there's a future for Ron and Robby's teacher Maggie (Natalie Martinez). There's no reason why she should find hims charming, but the script implies she does, even in instances where the things he does aren't anything other than distressing. More stuff with Maggie at the school could also bring Kurt Fuller, as the principal, into the mix more frequently and there are few things that can't benefit from more Kurt Fuller. I'd also welcome more of "The State' alum Joe LoTruglio, since he gets in some good moments in the third episode, but I'm assuming he's nothing more than a rare guest.
So is Ron really just going to spend the next 11 years serving as father-for-hire until he's packed all three kids up for college? Is that the series? Can we expect more unearned warm-fuzzies in weeks to come? My own advice? Get the laughs first, earn the warm-fuzzies later, because through three episodes, neither part of the equation is really working.
"Sons of Tucson" premieres on Sunday, March 14 at 9:30 p.m.
1996 | Crime | RSummary: Jerry, a small-town Minnesota car salesman is bursting at the seams with debt... but he's got a plan. He's going to hire two thugs to kidnap his wife in a scheme to collect a hefty ransom from his wealthy father-in-law. It's going to be a snap and nobody's going to get hurt... until people start ...Director: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Cast: William H. Macy, Frances McDormand, Steve Buscemi, Peter Stormare
2013 | Drama | RSummary: Leonardo DiCaprio and Jonah Hill have boundless energy in the story of a real-life commodities crook who earned millions through scummy small-time stock trades.Director: Martin Scorsese
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie
1997 | Crime | RSummary: Quentin Tarantino adaptats an Elmore Leonard novel into this story of a few increasingly desperate people scraping to get by. It has deep soul, a wicked sense of humor, and Samuel L. Jackson, Robert De Niro, Pam Grier, and Robert Forster.Director: Quentin Tarantino
Cast: Pam Grier, Samuel L. Jackson, Robert Forster
2013 | Comedy | NRSummary: Insanely funny comedy show created by Amy Schumer, who stars in brilliantly funny sketches about sex, city living, dating, and friendship.Director: Daniel Powell, Amy Schumer (creators)
Cast: Amy Schumer, Kevin Kane, Mike Houston
2008 | Science Fiction | PGSummary: Animated series continues the story of Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker as they battle the Emperor Palpatine, Count Dooku and General Grievous, but also takes time to explore other smaller characters in the Star Wars universe.Director: George Lucas (creator)
Cast: Tom Kane, Dee Bradley Baker, Matt Lanter
2013 | Thriller | RSummary: Based on the true story of Daniel Lugo (Mark Wahlberg) a Miami bodybuilder who wants to live the American dream. He would like to have the money that other people have. So he enlists the help of fellow bodybuilder Adrian Doorbal (Anthony Mackie) and ex-convict, Christian bodybuilder Paul Doyle (D...Director: Michael Bay
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnson, Anthony Mackie, Tony Shalhoub
1993 | Sports | PGSummary: Emotionally powerful sports classic featuring Sean Astin as a skinny high school kid with big football dreams and the determination to make his way towards his dream team at Notre Dame.Director: David Anspaugh
Cast: Sean Astin, Jon Favreau, Ned Beatty
2007 | Comedy | PGSummary: Newlyweds Nick (Ice Cube) and Suzanne (Long) decide to move to the suburbs to provide a better life for their two kids. But their idea of a dream home is disturbed by a contractor (McGinley) with a bizarre approach to business.Director: Steve Carr
Cast: John C. McGinley, Ice Cube, Nia Long, Aleisha Allen
1995 | Mystery | NRSummary: Denzel Washington plays an out of work WWII vet who takes the wrong job and is soon neck-deep in a mess of politics, murder, and jazz in '40s Los Angeles.Director: Carl Franklin
Cast: Denzel Washington, Tom Sizemore, Jennifer Beals
Looking for something to watch?
Let Streaming Genie help you.
Let Streaming Genie help you.