Screen Savors: Water cooler wannabe

It's a cruel, cruel television world, one that periodically proves absolutely unfathomable.

less than perf 298 (photo credit: Courtesy photo)
less than perf 298
(photo credit: Courtesy photo)
It's a cruel, cruel television world, one that periodically proves absolutely unfathomable. Otherwise how can we explain the demise of well-crafted, fresh new programming like the much-missed Dead Like Me or Jack and Bobby, while networks like ABC allow junk like Less Than Perfect (YES Stars, Sunday, 21:05) to survive four seasons? Yes, this comedy - if that's a fair word to use to describe this practically laugh-less series - about a TV news broadcast and the "zany" goings-on behind the scenes is back, but we wish it wasn't and can't understand why it's returned. Truth be told, we haven't been regular watchers of the first three seasons of the series, and based on a look at the opening episode of Season 4, we know why. Less Than Perfect is another in a long line of "office comedies," focusing on cartoonish office types - the stupid boss, the conniving women, the toady assistants - for laughs. While its roots may be in anything from the old Dick Van Dyke Show to Mary Tyler Moore, and now to the much more sophisticated The Office, the cast of Less Than Perfect can't hold a candle to their sitcom predecessors. That's probably because the phrase "situation comedy" relies heavily on "situation" and "comedy," neither of which make anything but cameo appearances here. That's a shame, because actress Sara Rue, who stars here as Claudia "Claude" Casey, a "floater" from the lower floors at TV station WGNB, really deserves better. The former co-star of The District has a charming screen presence and some good comedic timing, but when you're stuck with a script that relies on lactose intolerance for laughs, you know you're in trouble. That was exactly the case in the new season opener, which found major upheavals at the station. Former news anchor Will Butler (Eric Roberts) quit, leaving the job in the unstable hands of Jeb (Patrick Warburton who played Elaine's boyfriend Puddy on Seinfeld). Backbiting Lydia, once Claude's competitor in the fight up the network ladder, now is married to Jeb, and in charge of producing the news program he anchors. But to Claude's surprise, she hires her as her assistant, a move everyone but the props boy must know is not going to work out. Meanwhile Claude's old friends, the little people on the fourth floor including Carl the cafeteria guy (Will Sasso of Sliders), Ramona (Sherri Shepherd of The Jamie Foxx Show) and of course, Owen (Andy Dick of NewsRadio and a hundred other voices) struggle with her new appointment, while trying desperately to find something besides a caricature to play. Ramona's the stereotype loud, buxom black woman; Carl's the dopey macho office dude; and Owen's the nerdy, strange crazy guy. All this makes Almost Perfect nowhere near that, but rather more of a model of mediocrity that struggles to even reach that level, relying on lines like: "You may be grown, but your brain stopped at kindergarten" for laughs. It doesn't happen. Dick tries his best to do crazy stuff, but even that gets tiresome after a while. Andrea Parker as Lydia does her best as a buffoonish femme fatale, but she can't hold a candle to Wendie Malick of Just Shoot Me. Indeed, we found ourselves thinking way too much of that office comedy when watching this one, and how much better written it is. Somehow, however, Season 4 hit the screens back in April, leading us to wonder whether there hasn't been a revolution out there in TV land somewhere, with the dopey stereotypes like those featured in Less Than Perfect now really running the networks, allowing comedies that rely on gurgling stomachs to grab prime time slots while far superior shows die unfair, early deaths. And while we're on the subject of networks, while we can understand why stations like Star World continue to run series like this one, what's with YES Stars? A network that prides itself in bringing us Prison Break and The Closer shouldn't fill its schedule with such pablum. If this trend continues, the TV execs responsible may find themselves headed back down to their own fourth floor.