Thursday, June 24, 2010

Hot in Cleveland just lukewarm

    TVLand is trying their hand at making a sitcom instead of just airing old ones from the other networks.  Their first project of the type, Hot in Cleveland, feels incredibly dated.  Which may not be a bad thing.  Considering who TVLand's target audience is, Hot in Cleveland should fit in nicely.  Perhaps it's the humor, or the bottled laugh track, or the "filmed in front of a life studio audience" line at the beginning.  There isn't just one element, but the show definitely feels like it aired in the 1980's, or maybe the early 1990's at the latest.

     The cast is charming.  Melanie (Valerie Bertinelli, One Day at a Time, Touched By an Angel) is the one who fits best in the old mold, even though each of the four main actresses has already had success in the sitcom medium.  She is also the catalyst for the series's main plot.  Recently divorced, she is with two friends on a trip to Paris when their plane is held over in Northern Ohio.  Stopping at a local bar, Melanie and her friends soon realize that they are quite attractive when compared with the local women, and much more valued than they are in their home city of Los Angeles.  It is a premise that teases at our country's divide.  Plenty of L.A. and New York City denizens see the entire country between them, to borrow a phrase from a well known comedian, as one giant red state.  Different culture exists outside of those two large cities, and it's fun to see it acknowledged the way it is.

     Melanie's friends decide to stay with her when she rents a house in Cleveland.  Joy (Jane Leeves, Frasier) is a mess, in the second episode dating a young man that she thinks might be her son.  Victoria (Wendie Malick, Just Shoot Me!) recently had her long-running soap opera canceled, so she has nothing better to do.  The first episode was all about the set up, but as the characters get more fleshed out, we find their true vulnerabilities.  Such as Victoria pretending to like the giant supermarket because fans fawn over her when she goes.  Why doesn't L.A. or NYC have big chain stores?  Why would these women not shop at them?  Again, cultural divide.

     Rounding out the cast is the 'caretaker' that came with the rented house, Elka (Betty White, The Golden Girls, Mary Tyler Moore, Boston Legal, etc.).  Despite the odd name, Elka has no accent.  She's just a grandmotherly type in a track seat with no obvious family around.  Elka gets all the good jokes, and let's be honest here.  Despite the talent and credentials the other three women bring to the show, most viewers will tune in for White, an American comedy legend.

     The chemistry is charming.  It's no Golden Girls, but it'll do for now.  It's television fast food: comfortable, tastes good, but without a lot of substance.  Yet, there is not necessarily anything wrong with that, and Hot in Cleveland does better than most at fulfilling the empty calorie content.

     Hot in Cleveland airs Wednesday nights at 10pm on TVLand.

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