Jewish World Review Jan. 23, 2003 / 20 Shevat, 5763

Catherine Seipp

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My So-Called Sitcom Life | LOS ANGELES (UPI) A few years ago, life became rather sitcom-esque for your faithful correspondent. My ex-husband split up with his Number Two ex-wife, and my father found himself (once again) between girlfriends, a job and a place to live. So they became roommates.

People kept telling me to pitch the situation as a series. And maybe I should have, though I wonder how successful "The Odd Couple" would have been had the situation resembled this one, which was basically Felix and Felix.

The biggest difference between them was that my ex-husband can't do repairs around the house and my father can fix anything, which came in rather handy when the Number Two ex-wife kicked in the door.

My father is now comfortably ensconced downstairs in my guest unit, where he spends many happy hours watching Animal Planet. "Will you look at that!" he exclaimed one day as a parrot quickly solved a puzzle. "Sheila" -- one of the women in his life -- "wouldn't be able to figure that one out if you gave her a week."

But perhaps I did miss the boat by not pitching his previous living arrangement as a TV show. Because Monday night, yet another reality series hit the small screen, on ABC Family Channel: "My Life is a Sitcom."

The concept here is that a team of former actors from fictional sitcom families (Maureen McCormick of "The Brady Bunch," Dave Coulier of "Full House" and David Faustino of "Married With Children") decide which of eight aspiring funny families would make the best sitcom. The winning family will then star in an actual sitcom pilot, scripted by actual sitcom writers, filmed before an actual studio audience.

As Maureen McCormick said breathily, upon hearing the premise, "Wow."

One contestant shown in the introductory credits is a man allowing his German shepherd to lap up what looks like milk out of his mouth. Is he one of the final eight?

"Uh, no, although I will say a lot of the families do have dogs," responded executive producer David Perler, when I asked about this. "And so do sitcoms."

Good save! Anyway, contestants who did make the final cut include a single mom with a bunch of kids (comedic elements here include fake vomit and bathroom noises); "three menopausal sisters" sharing living quarters; a family of "hipsters" living in ultra-boring La Canada, Calif.; some would-be Hollywood starlet roommates, and -- this week's episode -- an unemployed and overweight Mr. Mom-type named Joe Mozian in Old Greenwich, Conn.

"Hopefully, comedy will ensue and we will have hilarity in Connecticut," says sitcom writer Stefanie Novik, as the camera follows her driving to the Mozians. She looks rather grim and that's understandable. I don't think there's been hilarity in Connecticut since the penultimate scene in "Auntie Mame."

And boy, do the Mozians need a writer. As Tolstoy might have put it, funny families are all alike, but each unfunny family is unfunny in its own way.

Sample unscripted zinger at the Mozians: "Joe, I don't know why you're surprised, the way you eat," Mrs. Mozian says irritably as her husband steps on the bathroom scale, which quickly hits 250. Despite Joe Mozian's overeager best efforts, he's no "King of Queens."

But the "My Life is a Sitcom" gang are an optimistic bunch. "Fat is funny," ventures David Faustino back at the studio office.

"And loveable!" points out Maureen McCormick.

Apparently, the producers think there's no situation that can't be made to seem hilarious with the help of a little wacky theme music. So: Wah-wah-wah-diddly-wah blares the soundtrack in the Mozian episode, as we learn that Grandma ... speaks French! Grandpa ... has 26 phones! The kids ... enjoy fast food! And play hockey!

I suppose this sort of crutch could work, if you're not too demanding, and are willing to believe that pretty much anything in family life is wackily comedic.

For instance, stop me if you've heard this one, but -- speaking of the sitcom possibilities of multiple phones -- when I was growing up we had three phone lines in each bathroom, which my mother installed herself. "It's not for nothing I was born on Thomas Edison's birthday!" she often said proudly.


Hey, it's not easy coming up with funny lines and situations. Which is why a tawdry unscripted show like Fox's "Joe Millionaire" just keeps going from strength to strength with its unintended laughs. Naturally, real Fox comedy writers hate it and don't mind saying so.

"King of the Hill" producers complained to Fox about those annoying strip ads of Joe Millionaire and harem running across the bottom of the screen and got them removed. "The Simpsons" creator Matt Groening complained about them to reporters at the Fox news conference.

"They'll be more pristine," Groening said about the latest batch of "Simpsons" DVDs, "because they won't have Joe Millionaire being chased across the screen by 14 brides."

Comedian Wanda Sykes, star of the upcoming Fox comedy "Wanda At Large," admitted that she did watch a "Joe Millionaire" episode. "And I never thought I'd say this, but I thought, boy, do I wish I were on the UPN."

"I just hate seeing dumb women," Sykes added. "And then the guy's retarded, 'cause he's starting to believe it's really his money: 'I just want a girl who likes me for me and not for my money.'"

Right. What's that "my money" thing about? Rumors were flying at Fox's presentation to the news Saturday that "Joe Millionaire" star Evan Marriott has a trust fund or some other source of income besides his $19,000-per-year construction worker's salary, and that this is a twist that will be revealed at the end.

If that's so, Marriott denies it. At the Fox news conference he gave a down-home performance to rival Andy Griffith's in "A Face in the Crowd," with his I'm-just-a-regular-Joe-even-if-I-am-a-handsome-underwear-model schtick.

"Well, you see the stupid haircut they gave me," he said, downplaying his good looks. "It's like -- I don't know."

"I tell you what I get a kick out of and it's really sappy and you'll get your puke buckets out," he continued, "but the other day a kid came up with a little truck, and his parents wanted me to take a picture with him. And I thought it was really cool because as a kid I loved trucks."

Uh-huh, uh-huh, uh-yup, aw shucks. Listen, I tell you what I get a kick out of and it's really sappy and you'll get your puke buckets out, but it's really cool seeing a lot of jaded TV journos actually get excited about something on TV, even if they're making fun of it.

My table at the Fox lunch Saturday was all a-buzz about what the denouement of "Joe Millionaire" would be. "It's the Steven Carrington story!" exclaimed a gay male reporter, referring to the gay black sheep character on "Dynasty."

We women, on the other hand, sided with the theory that Evan Marriott is an estranged heir to the Marriott hotel fortune, probably because that's the Cinderella fantasy ending we'd like to see.

Then there was Fox President Gail Berman's response to questions about the ethics of lying about Marriott's real financial situation to contestants.

"The lie, as you say, is a part of this program," Berman said. "When people take part in these reality shows, they know they're in for a ride. I believe the American public is going to be extremely satisfied with the ending of this show. Extremely satisfied," she repeated enigmatically.

Hmmm. Do they flay him or something? Stay tuned!

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JWR contributor Catherine Seipp, who writes the weekly "Cathy's World" column for UPI, is a columnist for Pages, the books magazine and has also written features, commentary and media criticism for Mediaweek, American Journalism Review, Penthouse, Forbes, the Weekly Standard, TV Guide and Reason. Comment by clicking here.

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