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Everybody loves Ray, but 'Gary's' not him

TELEVISION REVIEW

September 24, 2008|Mary McNamara | Times Television Critic

Oh, those hapless men, with their boyish smiles, shrill wives and fumbling, bumbling ways -- is any sitcom complete without them? Not at CBS, where everyone apparently still loves Raymond. A lot. Like a grieving family that cannot let go, the network continues to offer us replicants, though with a twist in the hopes we won't notice.

Take a look at "Gary Unmarried,” which is easily done since it premieres at 8:30 tonight. Here we have Gary (comedian Jay Mohr), a father of two who runs his own house painting business in L.A. but still has the heart, mind and wardrobe of a college undergrad. We meet him as he is having a postcoital cuddle with Vanessa (Jaime King), a client whom he jokingly refers to as "a whore."

No, seriously, he really really likes her, he's just unsure how to proceed. Mainly because he's just a big ol' bumbling, fumbling boy-man but also because he is recently divorced from Allison (Paula Marshall), a woman seemingly put on this Earth to embody every bitter man's idea of an ex-wife -- shrill, castrating, super-controlling, the type of mom who feeds her kids ginkgo at bedtime and puts them on 18-hour fruit cleanses. Hilarity ensues when she and the kids -- Louise (Kathryn Newton), who has a crush on Al Gore, and Tom (Ryan Malgarini), with his requisite geek-boy girl problems -- show up at Gary's place during above-mentioned cuddle. Like any responsible adult, Gary shoves Vanessa out the back door and goes three rounds with Evil Ex.

"Yeah, when my kids are starving, I tend to feed them," he parries in response to the fruit cleanse. "Sorry if that makes me the 'fun' parent."

Though it scarcely seems possible, things go downhill from there -- Allison, it turns out, is now engaged to their former couples counselor (Ed Begley Jr.), who proceeds, through machinations of the plot not worth explaining, to counsel Gary and Vanessa as they launch their new (literal splutterings on Gary's part) relationship.

I don't mean to make it sound like "Gary Unmarried" is terrible. I mean, it is, but it also isn't. The performances, in and of themselves, range from solid (King's) to inspired (Marshall's). Never before has the Evil Ex stereotype had such a delicious workout. The kids are terrific, even saddled with their excessively time-sensitive issues. (Al Gore isn't quite as funny as he was, say, six months ago.) Mohr can certainly deliver both defensive sarcasm and wide-eyed sincerity along with the best of them, and Begley is always a pleasure, even if he is playing the most ethically challenged therapist in television history.

But taken together, there is both too much and too little going on. Writer Ed Yeager has focused too much on "defining quirks" and not enough on "reason to watch." The problem with replicants, inevitably, is not that they can't do their jobs. It's that they have no heart.

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mary.mcnamara @latimes.com

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'Gary Unmarried'

Where: CBS

When: 8:30 tonight

Rating: TV-14 (may be unsuitable for children younger than 14)

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