Oh Grow Up Review

Rick on TV.com, September 23, 1999

Three Men and a Teenager: Oh Grow Up

Men living together is an accepted TV staple. Has been for decades. Think M*A*S*H, The Odd Couple, The Courtship of Eddie's Father, even Bosom Buddies. The domestic angle provides instant opportunity for all sorts of fish-out-of-water scenarios: men in the kitchen, men cleaning house, men doing laundry. All tried-and-true laugh getters, at least once upon a time. But it's almost the millennium, of course, and audiences today are much more sophisticated than that. Which is why ABC's new comedy Oh Grow Up puts a clever spin on the whole arrangement - one of the men is actually gay!

Okay, so maybe it's not the shocker it might once have been. But at least it gives the show a little something to distinguish itself, which it desperately needs. The household in question is populated by Hunter (Stephen Dunham), successful building contractor and major lothario, Norris (David Alan Basche), mildly neurotic medical supply salesman-turned-artist, and Ford (John Ducey). The three were roommates once before in college, and only recently has Ford returned to the fold, having realized that in spite of his marriage, he's gay. There's also a dog named Mom, which is probably the most original thing about the series. Mom occasionally holds forth on the goings-on, barking her displeasure (which is conveniently subtitled for those of us who don't speak spaniel, or whatever kind of dog she is).

Throwing a wrench into the relative idylls of Hunter's life is Chloe (Niesha Trout), who turns out to be his eighteen year old daughter he never knew about (the product of a short-lived fling half his lifetime ago). She turns up on his doorstep one night, new in town, enrolled at NYU as a freshman. Suddenly, a black cloud appears on the horizon - how will Hunter possibly maintain his busy sex life knowing he's got progeny out there? And girl progeny at that? Hot girl progeny, for heaven's sake! Clearly something has to give, so in one fell swoop, the inveterate ladies' man transmogrifies from footloose, fancy-free perennial bachelor to instant father figure.

It's not all fun and games for the other guys, either. Norris, a nervous wreck about a gallery show coming up, frets that he'll never sell a painting and be forced to return to the world of wholesale catheters and bedpans, his dreams of being a professional artist dashed forever. (Of course, someone needs to sit down and tell him that being represented by a gallery as a tyro is a pretty good sign of good things waiting to happen, but still.) Suffering a crisis of her own is Suzanne (Rena Sofer), Ford's wife, still deeply mired in a love/hate relationship with her gay spouse and shocked that he's actually going through with batting for the other team. (Even more shocked that she never saw the signs, a Celine Dion CD collection and a boyhood love of Tarzan among them.) Their friendship isn't going as well as they might have thought, too laden with baggage as it is, and she comically turns to wine to take her mind off the whole thing.

Created by Alan Ball (also responsible for the amazing feature American Beauty), the premiere episode has some good laughs, but unfortunately not much more. The cast are all serviceable sitcom players, but they never push the envelope, and the dialogue never really requires them to. Dunham looks like he graduated from the Ted Danson school of acting - stooped shoulders, staccato delivery, furrowed brow. Ducey's Ford finds himself living in a whole new world, yet remains relatively nonchalant toward his newfound gayness. His resistance to all things screechingly queeny is refreshing from a societal point of view (hear that, Will & Grace?), but it makes him fairly dull as a character. Only Basche as Norris comes the closest to being real, and one suspects that he's the one with whom Ball finds the most in common.

Pinpointing exactly why a show misses the mark is never easy, and "scrap the entire thing and start over" isn't very constructive advice. But in this case, it would seem to be the best thing, because while the premiere is never terrible, it's not very good either. And at some point it's time to Grow Up and move on.

--James Koonce

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