Premieres Thursday, March 27 at 8:30pm on FOX.
Nostalgia comedies have been something of a feature this television season. In addition to Surviving Jack, ABC's The Goldbergs and NBC's Growing Up Fisher have borrowed the Wonder Years formula of setting their stories a few decades in the past, while an older version of the main character narrates the action, reflecting on what once was. Unfortunately, Fox's scheduling has made Jack the last sitcom out of the gate, even though it rises above the gimmicks of its format far better than its competition.
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In 1991, young Frankie (Connor Buckley) is about to start high school. While he's long been a bit of an outcast, Frankie has blossomed over the summer, having grown 10 inches and impressed by throwing a no-hitter at a big baseball game. Everything's in line for him to have a great freshman year, provided he can keep his awkwardness in check. To complicate that, he has his hilariously blunt father Jack (Christopher Meloni) at his ear, constantly telling him how he's screwing up. Now that their former stay at home mom, Joanne (Rachael Harris), is starting law school, Jack is taking over more duties at home, including guiding his teenage children through the pains of their formative years. While his heart is always in the right place, Jack's brusque approach to parenting often adds to Frankie's stress levels as much as it helps.
Co-creator Justin Halpern introduced the world to his father's uniquely blunt sense of humor with the @ShitMyDadSays Twitter account, which lead to a far less funny CBS sitcom starring William Shatner. With Surviving Jack, Halpern makes another attempt at mining his dad's unique personality for humor and, thankfully, it's far more successful. Where Shatner was an unimpressive vehicle for smutty one-liners, Meloni is a more well-rounded and intelligent character, the perfect vehicle for Jack's dry, brass tacks view of the world. The show does rely on him to provide most of the laughs, but he does it so well that it never feels like a weakness.
While the nostalgia format feels a bit tired this year, Surviving Jack makes it work by not getting overly distracted by the trappings. Sure there are extended gags in the pilot involving Frankie's Hypercolor T-shirt and Jack reading Jurassic Park, but these don't feel nearly as worn out as the rampant '80s references in The Golbergs. Jack also makes an interesting choice in casting its narrator. While Patton Oswalt and Jason Bateman's familiar vocals guide The Goldbergs and Growing Up Fisher, respectively, the adult Frankie is voiced more subtly by Mad Men's Kevin Rahm. It makes for a far less distracting narration that balances well with the action of the show, allowing Meloni to always be the most commanding voice in the room.
Both heartwarming and funny, Surviving Jack is an enjoyable comedy that celebrates the past without getting lost in it.