Tuned In: Summertime sitcoms fizzle

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Summertime and the viewing is ... funny? Not necessarily.

July brings with it a bounty of scripted comedies on both broadcast and cable networks but the results are more fizzle than sizzle.

FX comedies

Let’s start with the more ambitious shows and work our way down to the dregs.

FX has a mixed track record with comedy, more so than with its mostly successful dramas.

With two new shows, “Married” (10 p.m. July 17) and “You’re the Worst” (10:30 p.m. July 17), FX embraces the downbeat ethos of its critical hit “Louie.” Call it the “Louie”-fication of FX, especially when it comes to “Married,” a comedy to slit your wrists by.

That’s not to say “Married” is a bad show. There are some terrifically funny lines and it’s intellectually funny, but not often ha-ha funny and the situations are dark and depressing.

Longtime married couple Russ (Nat Faxon, “Ben and Kate”) and Lina (Judy Greer,” “Arrested Development”) tolerate one another but don’t have much joy in their “miserably married” lives.

Lina reads vampire novels to sate her desire for romance and refuses her husband’s sexual overtures. In the premiere episode she gives him permission to seek sex outside of their marriage, which he attempts half-heartedly and with complicating consequences.

Lina comes off as a cold scold and Russ seems like a well-meaning but namby-pamby doofus.

“Married” is at its funniest when Russ’s friends Bernie (John Hodgman, “The Daily Show”) and Jess (Jenny Slate, “Obvious Child”) are on screen.

Bernie tells Russ he can rekindle romance with Lina if he’ll just “find out what she’s into, no matter how stupid it is. It’s called being sensitive.”

Weirdly, both “Married” and “You’re the Worst” feature characters snorting cocaine and male characters who masturbate in front of their female partners. (Maybe comedy writers need to get out of their L.A. bubbles.)

If “Married” is defined by its hopelessness, at least the funnier, more anarchic “You’re the Worst” tips the scales toward hopefulness.

“Worst” begins with Jimmy (Chris Geere) causing a ruckus at his ex-girlfriend’s wedding.

“Sometimes you just want to be there for the beginning of a disaster so later when the house is in flames you can say, yep, I was there when they installed the faulty wiring,” Jimmy tells the bride.

At the wedding he meets equally cynical, self-destructive Gretchen (Aya Cash), and the two embark on a one-night-stand that improbably turns into some sort of longer-term relationship.

They’re both terrible people in a myriad ways, and yet, they really seem to connect, which allows “You’re the Worst” to evince an acidic sweetness through its bleakness.

‘Hotwives of Orlando’

Online streaming service Hulu.com debuts a promising spoof of Bravo’s “Real Housewives” franchise with the seven-episode “Hotwives of Orlando” (July 15).

The premiere 23-minute episode is long on set-up and introductions as it mocks its characters and staged reality TV conventions. A second episode proves stronger and less predictably funny.

“This is Orlando: You go big or you go back to Kissimmee,” a party planner announces during the premiere.

Trophy wife Tawny (Casey Wilson, “Happy Endings”) gets into a fight with best friend Shauna (Danielle Schneider) when Tawny dares to tell Shauna to “calm down” during a party.

Devout but uneducated Christian Crystal (Angela Kinsey, “The Office”) shows up to a pimps and hos party in a revealing outfit that has to be constantly blurred but it doesn’t stop her from passing judgment: “I really hope you don’t go to hell because you’re so pretty!” (When she runs into a friend at the store, Crystal declares, “If that’s not divine intervention, then I clearly don’t know what that means!”)

All the reality show archetypes are represented, including the woman who carries herself as classy but loves gutter humor and the token African-American hotwife who just has to tell it like it is, even if her pronouncements are unnecessarily mean. There’s also an oddball, Crystal’s sister, Amanda (Kristen Schaal, “Flight of the Conchords”), a child star in a local commercial for prune juice, who’s never recovered from her fleeting fame.

Writers Dannah Phirman and Danielle Schneider clearly know the source material they’re mocking and do a great job of getting laughs out of the absurdities of the “Real Housewives” shows. But sometimes the humor is dulled by the realization that while mockery can be fun, “Hotwives” still requires viewers to sit through “Real Housewives”-style inanity.

‘Welcome to Sweden’

Two new NBC comedies, “Welcome to Sweden” (9 p.m. Thursday, WPXI) and “Working the Engels” (9:30 p.m. Thursday) could not be more different.

“Sweden” is a quiet, gently amusing comedy; “Engels” is loud and brash with occasional funny bits peeking through a generally pat, wan premise.

Executive producer Amy Poehler (“Parks and Recreation”) guest stars as herself in the first episode of “Sweden,” which stars her brother, Greg Poehler, as Bruce, a New York accountant who falls in love with a Swedish woman, Emma (Josephine Borenebusch), and moves to Sweden.

It’s a fish-out-of-water tale with a ton of English subtitles used when Emma’s family members are speaking in Swedish. That alone makes “Sweden” a rarity for a comedy on a broadcast network and probably a tough sell to some viewers.

A bigger impediment to a broad American audience may be that the humor is largely based on height jokes about Bruce’s stature – he’s evidently short compared to most Swedes – and the dim bulb nature of Emma’s brother who lives with her parents (“I thought about becoming a shepherd but there are no sheep here,” he says).

Emma also has an ill-informed, America-loving uncle whose impressions of the U.S. are based primarily on Robert De Niro and Al Pacino movies.

“Sweden” may generate some smiles but not a lot of laughs with its quiet humor and overly familiar culture clash gags.

‘Working the Engels’

With Andrea Martin (“SCTV”) as the star, there’s no question that “Engels” will be somewhat voluble. That’s just her style of comedy. But “Engels” also insists that every character is a broadly drawn screamer.

Occasionally that makes for funny bits – an argument over quotes and whether they come from “Star Wars” or the Bible is a hoot -- but the show is otherwise exhausting.

Ms. Martin stars as Ceil Engel, who learns in the opening scene that her recently deceased husband left the family $200,000 in debt from his legal practice. She contemplates suicide, changes her mind, then accidentally falls off her roof, drawing all three children to her hospital bedside.

Responsible Jenna (Kacey Rohl) leaves her terrible law firm job to take over the family business, where Ceil will work as a paralegal.

Sandy (Azura Skye, “American Horror Story”), a born-again Christian who is recovering from drug addiction, will become the firm’s receptionist and bad boy Jimmy (Ben Arthur) will become the investigator. (What happened to the folks who previously did lose jobs is not addressed in the pilot episode.)

Each character is introduced in a vignette that’s as amped-up as possible – Jenna doesn’t just have a weird roommate, she has a weird roommate who is always naked! – and the show never allows itself to stand down from ill-fated, continuous attempts at heightened hilarity.

‘The Almighty Johnsons’

Syfy introduces its latest imported series – this time from New Zealand – an hourlong, comedic drama about four brothers and their great-grandfather who have inherited the power of Norse Gods.

The pilot episode of “The Almighty Johnsons” (10 p.m. July 11), the only one Syfy made available for review, is all set-up as youngest Johnson brother Axl (Emmett Skilton) turns 21 and his older brothers share their family secret: Olaf (Ben Barrington) is not their cousin, but their grandfather, and they’re all Norse Gods.

Axl is both concerned and thrilled that he might have a power.

“Bloody hell, it’s like giving an atom bomb to a toddler,” responsible older brother Mike (Timothy Balme) complains.

Axl also learns brother Ty (Jared Turner) has the power to summon extreme heat and cold, so Axl is eager to learn what power he might have. He gets that information along with the price of the power of a Norse God.

Axl also gets an arrow through the chest but he doesn’t learn the shooter is part of a group of women who are trying to take him down because they fear recent events – shooting stars, earthquakes, a red sea and more – portend the return of wise Odin. Axl doesn’t seem to fit the bill but maybe he does?

It’s difficult to judge “The Almighty Johnsons” from its pilot episode, but the blend of humor and Norse Gods lore does fit in well with Syfy’s penchant for light, fantasy dramas, but those series also tend to be fairly forgettable.

‘Backpackers’ and ‘Seed’

The CW, long home to soapy dramas, began its embrace of comedy with last year’s return of “Whose Line is It Anyway,” and that continues with originally-for-online series “Backpackers” (8:30 p.m. July 14) and Canadian import “Seed” (9:30 p.m. July 14, WPCW).

“Backpakers” benefits from filming on location in Europe but that can’t make up for the lowest common denominator escapades, which play like an unfunny, made-for-TV “Road Trip.”

Best friends Ryan (Noah Reid) and Brandon (Dillon Casey, “Nikita”) are backpacking across Europe after Ryan and his fiance make a deal to experiment with an open relationship before their wedding. Then Ryan freaks out and changes his mind, so he and Brandon try to track down Ryan’s fiance without the benefit of her itinerary.

The first episode opens with the pair playing soccer with their pants around their ankles in an empty Paris fountain with the Eiffel Tower in the background. This gives some idea about the level of humor. It also proves that no matter how beautiful the location – episode two is set in Italy – the background can never make up for idiocy in the foreground.

Scripted Canadian comedy “Seed” benefits from a more novel premise and its premiere episode has some genuinely funny moments, including one gag concerning mistaken identity and a lack of gender-specific names.

Womanizing loser Harry (Adam Korson) was a sperm donor years ago and it comes back to haunt him when some of his offspring begin showing up at his door after one of the kids hacks the sperm bank computer to learn his identity.

Soon Harry has to forgo dates to help his biological offspring out of assorted jams, including a teen daughter he fears may be attending a sex party.

Written by executive producer Joseph Raso, “Seed” is mildly dirty in a smirky way but it doesn’t go too far over the top. Nor does it get overly saccharine when Harry starts offering counsel to his offspring and their families. “Seed” isn’t great TV, but it’s a funny enough diversion in the context of generally disappointing summer comedy.

Channel surfing

Canceled NBC comedy “Community” lives again thanks to Yahoo!, which renewed the show for a sixth season to stream online this fall. ... Fox has canceled its yet-to-premiere big-budget Egyptian drama series “Hieroglyph,” planned for 2015, following last month’s departure of Fox Entertainment chairman Kevin Reilly. ... Denis Leary is back in business with FX for a 2015 comedy series, “Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll,” in which he’ll play a former rocker who is desperate for fame. ... History’s “Ice Road Truckers” returns for a new season at 10 p.m. Monday. ...”Cops” returns with new episodes at 8 p.m. July 12 on SpikeTV. ... A new season of “Doctor Who” comes to BBC America at 8 p.m. Aug. 23.… NBC renewed summer medical drama “The Night Shift” for a second season. … Beginning Aug. 10 AMC will re-air “Breaking Bad” from the beginning on Sundays, 5 p.m.-1 a.m., through Oct. 5. … A fourth season of PBS’s “Masterpiece Mystery!” series “Sherlock” begins with a special that films in January followed by three new episodes. No American air date has been announced but late 2015 or early 2016 seem plausible.


Tuned In online

Today's TV Q&A column responds to questions about “The View,” “The Young & the Restless” and getTV. This week's Tuned In Journal includes posts on “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood,” cable’s new fyi channel, “Orange is the New Black” and “Extant.” Read online-only TV content at post-gazette.com/tv.

This week's podcast includes conversation about “The Last Ship,” “The Leftovers” and “Vicious.” Subscribe or listen at http://old.post-gazette.com/podcast.




TV writer Rob Owen: rowen@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2582. Follow RobOwenTV on Twitter or Facebook for breaking TV news.Webhed: Cable and broadcast networks plan a wealth of July comedy series debuts but the results are a mixed bag.

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