[In case you've Forgotten, and as I will continue to mention each and every one of these posts that I do: This is *not* a review. Pilots change. Sometimes a lot. Often for the better. Sometimes for the worse. But they change. Actual reviews will be coming in September and perhaps October (and maybe midseason in some cases). This is, however, a brief gut reaction to not-for-air pilots. I know some people will be all "These are reviews." If you've read me, you've read my reviews and you know this isn't what they look like.]

Show:"Surviving Jack" (FOX)
Airs:Midseason
The Pitch: "'The Wonder Years'... '90s Edition" or else "Feces My Dad Says: Origins"
Quick Response: Of the three "Wonder Years"-style comedies premiering this season, "Surviving Jack" was easily my favorite pilot, topping ABC's shout-y "The Goldbergs" and NBC's odd (and being altered) "Growing Up Fisher." There are several reasons for that. The first and most important is that Chris Meloni is just terrific. Meloni perfectly nails the mixture of prickly outrageousness and well-intentioned -- but still awkward -- love that William Shatner blundered in Justin Halpern's "Feces My Dad Says," which now feels like the batch of test cookies that were burnt and properly discarded in preparation for this. The "SVU" veteran is truly funny, but also recognizably human in a way that grounds the entire show. I also have to admit that "Surviving Jack" is much more my jam, historically speaking, than "The Goldbergs" was. The early-90s world of hypercolor t-shirts, scrambled porn and burgeoning adolescence struck a chord with me, but for the most part the pilot was much less "Let's make a campy, dated reference just for the sake of snarky dramatic irony" than "The Goldbergs" was. Yes, "Surviving Jack" is yet another comedy pilot that didn't make me laugh, but I smiled a lot in general recognition. Much will depend on relatively unknown leading man Connor Buckley, who has appealingly sarcastic timing in certain scenes, but reads too flat and bland in others. Buckley doesn't have to be Fred Savage for "Surviving Jack" to work, but he has to imprint a bit more strongly in later episodes, or else this will just become "The Chris Meloni Show," which wouldn't be bad, but it probably isn't what this wants to be. Another alternative, should Buckley fizzle, would be for "Surviving Jack" to push Claudia Lee into the forefront. Fans of "Hart of Dixie" and "Kick-Ass 2" (a weird Venn Diagram that I'm not even a part of, since I thought "Kick-Ass 2" was pretty dismal) know that Lee has impressive comic timing as well as singing and dancing skills that might as well be utilized. Also capable of picking up the slack is Rachael Harris, who wasn't in the original pilot and has never, despite many sitcom attempts, been given a part that properly utilized her gifts. As was the case with "The Goldbergs," "Surviving Jack" lacks the weight that flashing back to the late-60s brought to "The Wonder Years," but it has potential when it comes to the humor and the heart.
Desire To Watch Again: FOX has several not-hilarious-but-likable comedies that could either evolve into funny shows as they develop their individual voices, could remain laughless-but-charming or could become unpleasant as FOX's comedy development team pushes them to be more overt. But as with "Enlisted" and "Brooklyn Nine-Nine," I look forward to watching a couple more "Surviving Jack" episodes.

 

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