In the first episode of "The Paul Reiser Show," which premieres Thursday night on NBC, Reiser's fictionalized version of himself, still lost in a post-"Mad About You" fugue state, is offered a job hosting a new game show. After he learns that Larry David may have been offered the same job, the two meet in a coffee shop where David encourages Reiser to do what he did — make a show about life after the hit.
It's one of those meta-media moments that David has leveraged on "Curb Your Enthusiasm" for more than 10 years — David talking about his show as if it were some quickly stitched together bit of wool he has pulled over viewers' eyes for all these years. It's also just about the worst career advice Reiser could get — g'head, make a cheap knockoff of my cable show on a network; it'll be great. The viewer leaves the first episode wondering more about David — did he really encourage this insanity or did he just agree to put in an appearance? Did he do it for the money or does he really have it out for Reiser? — than "The Paul Reiser Show."
The narrative revolves around Reiser and the fathers who have become his friends, and for a moment or two there is hope. Ben Shenkman plays Jonathan, the most sensible of the men and his comedy has a fine astringency that plays well against Reiser's wide-eyed helplessness. There is even something resembling parental reality: The premiere opens with a rant against the dreaded state report, a troublesome milestone of the California educational curriculum that inevitably requires too much adult participation. Having just dealt with a state report in my household, I laughed at early jokes with a certain manic giddiness that I imagine will be shared by similarly afflicted parents. (Memo to prop department: How much do you want for the Indy 500 model? Because Indiana was our state too.)
Unfortunately, the state report is about as resonant as it gets. As Reiser must know, timing is very important in comedy, and this was probably not the best moment to debut a show about an out-of-work actor still living in a neighborhood resembling Brentwood who can afford to turn down a job.
On "Curb," David plays his wealth for laughs; Reiser just pretends he and his friends, who have similar multi-bedroom domiciles, are middle class. Those friends — in addition to Jonathan, there's Habib (Omid Djalili), who owns a warehouse store; Fernando (Duane Martin), who owns a bar; and Brad (Andrew Daly), whose family owns, apparently, the rest of Los Angeles — are also all married men who happen to be the primary caretakers of their young children, a species so rare it may actually be found only on this show.
Much of the action arises from Reiser's inability to manage his mouth, but where David boldly owns the dark and limitless empire of his self-absorption, Reiser still wants to be the happily married Dad who may say the wrong thing once in a while but whose heart is still in the right place. A guy who's just like you, only much richer with his own show. But you can't have it both ways; just ask Larry David.