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So you've seen all of the new shows this fall - but what about the ones that didn't make the cut? For the next 30 days we're going to take a "first look" at a collection of 30 pilots that didn't land on the 2009-10 season schedule. Are there any gems that got passed over or are they all deservedly locked in the networks' vaults? Stay tuned.
HAPPINESS ISN'T EVERYTHING (CBS)
(written by James Vallely & Mitch Hurwitz; directed by James Burrows; TRT: 23:29)
What is it? A multi-camera comedy about an overly neurotic, overly close family.
Who was behind it?: "Arrested Development" alums James Vallely and Mitch Hurwitz co-wrote the script to the project, which was directed by sitcom veteran James Burrows.
The plot in a nutshell: The Hamburger family is what you might call close. And neurotic. And possibly insane. They're facets that are only starting to dawn on one member of the Hamburger clan, eldest son/TV writer Jason (Jason Biggs). You see he's thinking about breaking up with his emotionless photographer girlfriend Moon ("Dirty Sexy Money's" Michelle Krusiec) and he's made the mistake of telling his family about it. Jerry (Richard Dreyfuss), his plastic surgeon dad, is all for the break up but seems more interested in his fledgling singer/songwriter career. Audrey (Mary Steenburgen), his lab tech mom, wants them to stay together but is more interested in finding a way to get back together with Jerry, even after 25 years of divorce. And Jacky (Ben Schwartz), his med student brother, is just upset that Jerry has not only kicked him (and his prized Wookie) out of the house but is pulling away from his practice ("By the time I take over the name Dr. Hamburger is going to be a joke," he quips).
It's Moon however that delivers the crushing blow instead: she can't deal with Jason's overly close family. Case in point: Jerry still kisses his boys on the lips. Jason however sets out to prove her wrong. Jerry is less than thrilled about said development and orders Jason and Jacky to pose with him on the cover of Beverly Hills Adjacent Magazine, which features Jerry as their musical pick of the week. He wants to recreate the opening to "Two and a Half Men" with Jason as Angus T. Jones. (Jason: "I'm Angus?" Jacky: "The half man!" Jason: "That is literally what I'm trying to show Moon I'm not!") Audrey conversely is hoping the void of not being able to kiss their kids will cause Jerry want to kiss her again. Jacky nevertheless offers a plan: give Jason a canker sore so it's impossible for Jerry to kiss Jason. On the flip side, Jerry schemes to use the photo shoot to capture him kissing Jason for the entire Beverly Hills adjacent area to see - and uses hiring Moon as the photographer as bait. Ultimately, for reasons too silly to recount here (let's just it involves an actual sample of the canker sore virus), the quartet inadvertently finds themselves caught in a four-way kiss - all in front of Moon.
What works: Wow, just...
What doesn't: ...wow. Even setting aside the obvious incestual creepiness (literally every family member kisses the other more than once point during the pilot), the show's overly neurotic take gets old very quickly. Virtually everyone speaks in an excitable, whiny tone (Jason, after hearing Moon's grandfather died: "He diiiiiieeeeeeeeed????????") that's painfully grating. Even worse, their respective neuroses aren't that funny: Aubrey holds up signs that say things like "I'll Always Be Here for You!" while spying on Jason's breakup; Jason works his troubles into the scripts of his science fiction series "Starhole" (the ship gets sucked into the mother of all black holes - the motherhole!); Jacky can't find anywhere to store his Wookie (I wonder what will happen when Jason opens his closet!); and Jerry literally pays his way to not only be in the aforementioned magazine, but land the cover.
And let's not forget the pun-inspired humor: Jason: "You want to get the son, you get the Moon."; Jerry: "I just don't want to have Moon come between us" (followed by a moon balloon floating between them); Jerry: "You don't settle, this country was not founded by settlers!" That combined with weak gags about everyone thinking "Starhole" is a comedy (since, you know, the main character has to say all his lines to a green tennis ball for visual effects reasons) and Jerry's lack of technical knowledge (Jason: "Last week he asked me to take a ride down to iTunes with him.") and you have a creepy, limp and relatively laugh free comedy.
The bottom line: A major disappointment considering the talent involved.