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TELEVISION REVIEW

He just can't catch a break

The protagonist in 'Worst Week' has bad luck, but the show has some good luck with a capable cast and crew.

September 22, 2008|Robert Lloyd | Times Television Critic

“Worst Week,” which premieres tonight on CBS, is closely adapted from the British sitcom “The Worst Week of My Life” (shown here on BBC America). But readers unfamiliar with that series may as profitably regard it as an extended remake of one Ben Stiller comedy of compounded errors “Meet the Parents”: Groom-to-be creates unintentional havoc while trying to impress or just get along with upright, uptight future in-laws. Although not necessarily any funnier than its models, it has what I can only think to call a better attitude, embodied in the abundant niceness of Kyle Bornheimer as hapless protagonist Sam.

Redeveloped by Matt Tarses ("Scrubs," "Sports Night"), the American "Week" begins with Sam and girlfriend Melanie (Erinn Hayes) planning to tell her parents that they are both getting married and having a baby. (The British series commenced a week from the wedding; the second season, a week before the couple's baby was born.) Most of the specific business of the episode has been borrowed from the UK "Worst Week" holiday miniseries “The Worst Christmas of My Life,” including: drunken female colleague vomiting on Sam in a taxi, then throwing him naked out of her apartment; and Sam accidentally urinating on the goose Melanie's mother (Nancy Lenehan) is preparing to cook and mistakenly reporting the death of Melanie's father (Kurtwood Smith from "That '70s Show," and the biggest name the producers have mustered).

Tarses has made Sam and Melanie less spiky and more likable than their British templates -- you can see that they have a good-humored, healthy relationship away from her parents, which gives some foundation for her forbearance as he arrives on the steps of her parents' house in the dead of night in a trash-bag diaper, relieves himself on the next night's dinner, sets things on fire, etc.

This is a comedy of frustration -- yours, viewer. There were times I wanted to reach through the screen, shake Sam by the shoulders and say, "Tell the truth now," or "Look before you leap," or "For goodness sake, man, relax." Although it is basic to the DNA of all sitcoms, such haplessness has the potential to grow irritating with repetition; the challenge will be to keep that fresh through a 22-episode American-length season. Although the title implies a single week, there will presumably be other worst weeks -- another worst week when the wedding comes and another when the baby arrives, with possibilities for other worst weeks in between. Unless, of course, one is that worst week that begins with a call from the network brass and ends with cast and crew members promising to keep in touch.

But it's all handled very well. The show moves fast without seeming to rush you. The timing, on the part of actors and editors alike, is excellent -- both Bornheimer and Smith are good physical comedians -- so that even while you can set your watch by the Next Bad Thing About to Happen, tension is created, suspense maintained. It's comedic suspense -- not the fear that things will go wrong, but the hope that, against all expectation, they might not.

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robert.lloyd@latimes.com

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'Worst Week'

Where: CBS

When: 9:30 p.m.

Rating: TV-14 (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14 with advisories for suggestive dialogue and coarse language.)

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