After landing a spot on Saturday Night Live in his early 20s, New Jersey-born funnyman Jay Mohr seemed to be tabbed for stardom. As his excellent memoir Gasping for Airtime detailed, though, Mohr was actually struggling with panic attacks and personal uncertainty, which derailed, or at least delayed, the trajectory of his rising star. Flash forward a couple years, and Mohr finally made a name for himself, trading up on a superlative turn as Tom Cruise‘s oily competitor in Jerry Maguire to solid bit parts in such comedic ensembles 200 Cigarettes, Playing By Heart and Go.
Mohr returns to the small screen in Gary Unmarried, a split-family laffer that recently picked up the 2009 People’s Choice Award for Favorite New TV Comedy. While new, conventional sitcom hits are few and far between in this fractured media landscape, this one has a pedigree that tilts it toward success — Emmy Award-winning producer and director James Burrows. That fact, as well as some able joke-writing and Mohr’s indefatigably sunny, put-upon personality, likely spell hang-around success for Gary Unmarried.
On the heels of his recent divorce, everything seems unfamiliar for painting contractor Gary Brooks (Mohr), a suddenly single dad to 14-year-old son Tom (Ryan Malgarini) and precocious 11-year-old daughter Louise (Kathryn Newton). Trying to navigate his increasingly complex life and share the upbringing of his kids with ex-wife Allison (Paula Marshall), Gary thinks he’s ready to move on with gorgeous new girlfriend Vanessa (Jaime King) when Allison drops a bombshell on him — she’s engaged to theirformer marriage counselor, Dr. Walter Krandall (Ed Begley, Jr., evidencing a fine ability for wringing laughs without words). Angst-ridden shenanigans ensue.
A lot of the narrative set-ups and some of the characterizations are certainly familiar (Gary chafes at dealing with his brainiac, liberal-leaning, old-beyond-her-years daughter, which feels a bit Lisa Simpson-ish at times), but timing and sensible comedic underplaying can go a long way toward mitigating recognizability, and the 20 episodes here exhibit plenty of both, showcasing a series that rounds into form and finds itself after about a half dozen episodes. Mohr’s shtick may be regarded by some as a slightly thinner sort of the same fat-headed yuk-yuk asides that Jim Belushi trades in, but the writing here generally skates a fine line — edgy without being unnecessarily vulgar — and the personalities are pleasant and affable. No harm, no foul, basically; matters are helped, too, by guest stars like Cerina Vincent and Jane Curtain.
Housed in a regular, clear plastic Amaray case in turn stored in a cardboard slipcover, Gary Unmarried comes to DVD spread out over three discs, presented in 1.78:1 widescreen, with an English language Dolby digital 5.1 surround sound audio track, and optional French and Spanish subtitles. A nice slate of never-before-seen bonus features complements the show itself, including a behind-the-scenes visit with executive producer Burrows. “The Chemistry of Comedy” is a fairly straightforward making-of featurette, built around interviews with cast and crew in which they discuss their chemistry and penchant for improvisation. Writer-producer Ric Swartzlander also props Mohr’s ability to punch up a line, while Mohr confesses he likes and feels most at ease with the easy set-’em-up-knock-’em-down rhythms and demands of multi-camera comedy. A bit more specifically canted, and thus interesting, are featurettes centering around Begley, Jr. and Mohr himself, the latter of which tracks him around the set over the course of a single day. There’s also a hefty collection of bloopers and flubbed lines. To purchase the DVD via Amazon, click here. B (Show) B+ (Disc)