By Rodger Streitmatter—Entertainment Writer
A strong case can be made that Will & Grace gave LGBT rights a huge boost. Beginning in the fall of 1998 and continuing for the next eight seasons, the TV sitcom brought two gay men into American living rooms for 30 laugh-out-loud minutes every week.
People loved the show, which at its height attracted an audience of a jaw-dropping 19 million viewers. And so, numerous observers—including Joe Biden—have credited the NBC comedy with nudging the American public toward supporting LGBT rights.
Which brings me to Sean Saves the World.
This NBC sitcom debuted this fall with Sean Hayes as its central character. Hayes played “Just Jack” McFarland on Will & Grace, providing the hit show with many of its biggest laughs. Hayes was a triumph in that earlier role, winning an Emmy for best supporting actor.
Unfortunately, though, Hayes’s new gig is a disaster.
He plays a weekend dad who’s suddenly thrust into the role of full-time dad for his 14-year-old daughter. And, yes, the Hayes character is gay. Indeed, he’s pretty much the same character as he was on Will & Grace.
So why doesn’t the show work?
One reason is that Hayes was great in a supporting role. With Eric McCormack as the milquetoast lawyer Will and Debra Messing as the ditzy designer Grace, Hayes as the flamboyantly gay supporting character was a hoot. He’d add a touch of over-the-top humor to a scene and then disappear for a while as McCormack and Messing stayed at center stage.
On Sean Saves the World, by contrast, Hayes never leaves the spotlight. He just becomes more and more annoying with his frenetic and erratic pace that takes the show nowhere.
But the even bigger reason why the new show isn’t working is the writing. Will & Grace’s writers kept the jokes coming so quickly that the viewer barely had time to stop laughing from one line before starting to cackle over the next one.
For old time’s sake, I’ll reproduce a couple of my favorite exchanges.
Will, in a straightforward tone: “When I was a teenager, the school bully made me write his history papers.”
Jack, in a boastful tone: “I, too, was bullied, but I’m proud to say no one ever made me do their homework.”
Will, without missing a beat: “That’s because no teacher ever assigned a history paper on the rise of the leg warmer.”
This next series of lines is from the show’s debut episode:
Jack, again in a boastful tone: “Most people who meet me don’t know I’m gay.”
Will, after a hearty laugh: “Jack, blind and deaf people know you’re gay.”
Jack, after gasping in comic disbelief and turning to Grace: “Did you know I was gay when you first met me?”
Grace, in a deadpan response: “My dog knew.”
The humor on Sean Saves the World doesn’t come close to this level.
A supporting character on the show is the lead’s mother, who often treats her son like a little boy. Typical of her lines is one from a recent episode: “Sean, you look a little flushed. Have you had a BM today?”
Yes, this trite joke could just as easily have come from The Golden Girls or Designing Women—circa 1985.
What makes the lines on Sean even more irritating is that they’re accompanied by a laugh track, which means even the most lame attempts at humor—and there are plenty of them—are followed by undeserved guffaws.
And what’s with the title? Sean Hayes clearly isn’t saving the world, as he can’t even save this mediocre sitcom.
Which brings me to the more upbeat possibility of this sitcom having the potential of getting better. NBC recently announced that Portia de Rossi will be joining the Sean cast for three episodes this spring, playing the title character’s ex-wife. If de Rossi is anywhere close to as good as she was on Ally McBeal and Arrested Development, maybe she can save Sean Saves the World. At least for three episodes.
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