TV Review: Surviving Jack, Series Premiere

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Plot: Surviving Jack is a new 1990s-set sitcom based on best-selling author Justin Halpern’s autobiographical book, I Suck at Girls. The plot revolves around Dr. Jack Dunlevy (Christopher Meloni) who must become the lead parent when his wife (Rachael Harris) decides to go back to law school. The taciturn Jack must deal with the raging hormones of his daughter Rachel (Claudia Lee) and unyielding awkwardness of his son Frankie (Connor Buckley).

Surviving Jack has potential.

Photo Credit: Patrick Ecclesine/FOX
Photo Credit: Patrick Ecclesine/FOX

The series premiere was a tale of two shows. The first tale would be that of an almost unbelievably stubborn and blunt father who is equipped with an endless supply of grumpy one-liners. This aspect of Surviving Jack gets old extremely fast. Every time any character did anything, there was Meloni’s Jack with a scowl on his face and something quippy and surly flying out his mouth. At the half way point of the episode it reached a level of complete absurdity — no real human being talks like this.

In fact, the show started evoking the horrible imagery of shows like Shit My Dad Says, The Millers, Mom and a multitude of poorly written sitcoms that currently or have littered the CBS comedy line-up. The type of shows where there’s an overbearing parent who has literally no soul, depth or purpose outside of being a grumpy old douche canoe.

When the show returned from its half way point commercial break it took a sharp left turn down a much more pleasant, funny, heartfelt and realistic road. When Jack’s son is embarrassed at school after Jack leaves a box of condoms in his book bag and his daughter is caught topless with her boyfriend, Mrs. Dunlevy steps in to lay down the law — Jack has got to actually be a parent to his children and not some caricature of one.

At this moment, the show lightens up and Meloni is allowed to show an actual emotional, reasonable and more humorous side to his character. When we see Jack relate to his son and have a conversation with him, we actually care about Jack. Then when Jack throws in a few of his one-liners and snarky quips, the audience actually can appreciate it, because it’s not unrealistic. How many dads bust chops during a heart-to-heart conversation? All of them is the correct answer.

Photo Credit: Beth Dubber/FOX
Photo Credit: Beth Dubber/FOX

As Jack, Meloni is the perfect choice. Despite being in a super heavy crime drama for the better part of his career, Meloni knows how to deliver the comedic goods. His timing is perfect and his repertoire with the entire cast is dynamite. And it’s his timing, talent and sheer likeability that helps ease some of the pain of the first half of the premiere. Relative newcomer Connor Buckley is the perfect foil for Meloni. His wide-eyed, naive nature sets up Meloni’s salty one liners like a point guard setting up his star forward for the open shot. The two work in great harmony and this dynamic could be a really great part of the show. In the limited amount of scenes she’s in, Rachael Harris, as expected, is resplendent and hilarious, here’s hoping there’s more for her to do as the season progresses.

Surviving Jack is a solid sitcom. Yet, the real test lies within the next few weeks. Will the show actually evolve its characters? If it can, then this show will not only remain on air, but it’ll become a darling in the FOX line-up, maybe even work its way into the network’s Tuesday line-up (Lord knows it would be better than Dads). Yet, there is a distinct possibility that the show reverts to just being about Meloni’s character being a raging douche that spouts off one-liners at an absurd and unrealistic rate. If that happens, this show is as good as done.

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Bill Bodkin is the owner, editor-in-chief and co-founder of Pop Break. Most importantly, however, he is the proud father of a beautiful daughter, Sophie. He can be seen regularly on the site reviewing The Walking Dead, Doctor Who, and is the host of the site's podcast, The BreakCast. He is a graduate of Rutgers University with a degree in Journalism & English. Follow him on Twitter: @BodkinWrites