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Better Than Jenna Elfman


 

In the midst of this depressing new TV season, one’s thoughts naturally turn to the development of next season’s shows. It’s mostly no less depressing (two more pilots based on Twitter accounts, plus a Modern Family clone based on the “Awkward Family Photos” site). One piece of news that’s at least not totally horrific, just sort of so-so, is the news that HBO is looking to do a Sex and the City-type show and that they hope to get Téa Leoni to star. What intrigued me was the statement that Leoni, who hasn’t done a TV series in a while, is “probably the most consistently pursued comedic actress for pilots on broadcast and cable.” I guess that could be true — she does seem to have a very high reputation in Hollywood as a comedic actress — but I always found her to be a bit oversold by the shows she was in, as well as the publicity machine, which constantly told us she was the “next Lucille Ball.” Her willingness to do strange line readings and other experimental things certainly made her unusual, as did her not-quite-conventional looks (as Roz said about her on Frasier, “she’s attractive, but not an ‘Oh, My, God!'”). But the shows she was on, Flying Blind and The Naked Truth, did seem to be trying too hard to make her a star when the public hadn’t really accepted her as one. In that respect she’s a bit like Jenna Elfman, who was also beloved by the people she worked with whose shows were constantly ordering us to love her. The difference being that Leoni has actually done good work in films like Flirting With Disaster, while Elfman’s movie career just gave us even more reasons not to like her.

Anyway, this is an excuse to haul out the pilot of Leoni’s vehicle The Naked Truth, also a vehicle for the distinctively bitter humour of Chris Thompson, creator of Bosom Buddies and Action. (Also, even a so-so ’90s comedy reminds us of one of many reasons why network sitcoms were generally better in the ’90s: more female stars. Julia Louis-Dreyfus’s brilliant appearance on 30 Rock reminded us how depressing it was that the guy-obsessed CBS dumped her show in favour of William Shatner and Bland Son. Today ABC is the only network that does sitcoms about women, and even their biggest hit has only two adult female characters.) The show, and Leoni, tried too hard, but I recall it being fairly enjoyable when it was on ABC. Then it moved to NBC and was retooled into a bland, boring NBC yuppie comedy, Suddenly Susan style.

Pilot, part 1

Part 2


Part 3


 
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Better Than Jenna Elfman

  1. On Elfman's side of the ledger I'd say that Dharma and Greg was a better show than The Naked Truth. Of course a lot of that was down to Thomas Gibson's drily humorous performance, but overall it was five years of good comedy.

    • I remember I and a number of other viewers at the time liked exactly half the show: I liked Greg and his parents, but didn't like Dharma and her parents. It was weird rooting for the rich WASPs but they were way funnier.

      It is another reminder of how rich the '90s was in good sitcoms (along with the bad ones) that Dharma, a middling success, was probably a more satisfying show overall than the big hits its creator has done in the '00s. I wonder how many middling '90s sitcoms would look like standouts today. (Of course there are middling successful dramas from the '00s that would arguable have looked better in the '90s when great dramas were scarcer, so it goes both ways.)

      • The parents were by far the best thing on that show — Susan Sullivan, who was years ago a playboy bunny, was terrific and so was the father. Jenna Elfman is kind of unappealing to me.

  2. I think Leoni's appeal stems from the fact that she, in every way, looks the part of a screwball comedy heroine. The outward trappings are all there. She just doesn't have the soul of someone like Rosalind Russell.

  3. Weinman! No post on the death of Barbara Billingsley yet? Or Simon McCorkindale? Please tell me you will share the awesomeness that was "Manimal" with your readers :)

  4. She was terrific in Spanglish, really showed herself to be an actor as well as comedic actor.

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