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The cast should divorce this sitcom

Times Staff Writer

A post-"Seinfeld” pals-comedy (in the classic proportion of three males to one female), Fox’s “Unhitched” has the distinction, if that’s the right word, of being executive produced by the Farrelly brothers, of “Dumb and Dumber,” “There’s Something About Mary” and “Shallow Hal” fame. The Farrellys, who directed the pilot episode as well, have not gone broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public. Or let me put that more kindly: Their patented blend of romantic comedy and stupid ickiness serves the people’s need for gross humor not devoid of “heart.” I expect there are those who will regard “Unhitched” as a riotous good time from the nearly opening moment when Jack, also known as “Gator” (Craig Bierko), is raped by a date’s pet monkey. It was a good date up until then, though.

Although the Farrellys have been pitched as the guiding lights, the listed creators are Chris Pappas, Michael Bernier and Kevin Barnett (one of several credited writers on the Farrellys’ remake of “The Heartbreak Kid”). The premise they have decided upon, such as it is, is that all the major characters -- Gator, Kate (Rashida Jones), Tommy (Johnny Sneed) and Freddy (Shaun Majumder) -- have been recently divorced or dumped and are making their way back into the dating pool. Shows in which characters have been divorced, dumped and/or are paddling around in the dating pool are, of course, neither new nor rare: Sitcom people are forever hooking up to hopefully hilarious (and sometimes to hopefully awww-inspiring) results. In any case, they are hooking up.

In the first episode, Kate likes a guy (even though he’s short) until she discovers he’s the “leprechaun” mascot of the Boston Celtics; in the second, she likes a guy until she discovers he isn’t a real rock star but a professional air guitarist. Gator likes a girl -- she is presented as just about perfect -- until he notices a “skin tag” hanging off her back. (“Skin tag” -- it’s such a Larry David notion.) Freddy is so naive it’s difficult to imagine he was ever married; he hires an escort for his birthday and proposes to her, and when Tommy tells him to “make friends” with the bouncer to gain entry to a nightclub, he actually becomes friends with the bouncer. (That bit is rather sweet.) Tommy is not so much a character as an embodiment of low standards, a familiar TV type.

All in all, it is pretty thin and flat; there are jokes that work, and the cast is able, but not in the service of anything substantial. Some of it is “offensive,” as it’s meant to be -- I use quotes, since the offense is obviously supposed to delight. (That dude was raped by a monkey!) Like the Farrellys’ films -- and lots of other sitcoms, to be sure -- the show inhabits a world proportioned differently from our own. But a series like “My Name Is Earl,” say, for all its unlikeliness, still achieves an emotional veracity “Unhitched” lacks. Everyone stays fairly busy, but there’s just not that much going on between or inside them. This is just another congregation of characters whose friendship seems mandated by the necessity to put a range of types into a small space.

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The cast does bring rewards. The appealing Bierko, a Tony-nominated Professor Harold Hill in the 2000 revival of “The Music Man” and a veteran of last season’s “Boston Legal,” has a mature charm shot through with goofiness. And Jones, who played regional manager Karen Filippelli on “The Office,” comes off best of all, perhaps because she has not been required to do anything strange, only respond to the strangeness around her. But she is also just a very good, very present actress.

I might wager that “Unhitched” will be no more than a brief pooling of careers that will go on, I am sure, to better things. Then again, I never would have predicted 11 seasons of “Married With Children” or even two of “ ‘Til Death,” or that “Family Guy” would return from the grave to become, like, an actual cultural touchstone -- to mention, probably not by coincidence, three other Fox series. (I am the last person you’d want running your TV network.) So we shall see.

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robert.lloyd@latimes.com

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‘Unhitched’

Where: Fox

When: 9:30 p.m. Sunday

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Rating: TV-14-DLS (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14, with advisories for suggestive dialogue, coarse language and sex)


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