March 27, 2014

THE SKED Pilot Review: “Surviving Jack”


SURVIVING JACK:  Thursday 9:30PM on FOX – Change the Channel

SURVIVING JACK is a Mortifying Parent Sitcom, which isn’t much of a surprise, since it originated with Justin Halpern, who wrote the book that became the short-lived sitcom S#!* My Dad Says and also wrote the book I Suck At Girls, which inspired this one (Patrick Schumacher, a writer/producer on the earlier show, co-wrote this pilot script with Halpern).  Halpern has gotten lots of mileage out of his infernal yet loving dad, but even though this rendition hails from the production company run by Bill Lawrence, of Scrubs and Cougar Town, there’s no reason to think viewers will take to it any more than they did to S#!*.

Surviving Jack adds to the S#!* mix a setting in 1991, when the son was still growing up, and a nostalgic voice-over narration by him as an adult, putting  it third in line for that particular Wonder Years reboot vibe behind ABC’s The Goldbergs and NBC’s Growing Up Fisher (even though the latter is set in the present-day).  The Surviving Jack pilot is less about the family as a whole than Goldbergs and Fisher are and more tilted toward the relationship of father Jack (Chris Meloni) and 16-year old son Frankie (Connor Buckley).

Jack is a stock authoritarian, macho dad (an oncologist) who loves his kids but for the most part clumsily and misguidedly interacts with them (see:  Major Dad, Last Man Standing), essentially a more lovable version of Robert Duvall in The Great Santini.  Since Frankie is mid-puberty when we meet him, and his sister Rachel (Claudia Lee) is just a bit older, there’s plenty of material for dad to be curt and/or clueless about:  masturbation, porn (which Frankie and his friends steal from homeless people), making out and pre-marital sex.  (When Jack finds out a girl has invited Frankie to a party, he puts a box of condoms into his son’s school back-pack with a snarky message and… cue the box falling out of said back-pack in the middle of the lunchroom for maximum humiliation.)  With Mom (Rachael Harris) deciding to start up her career again and attend law school, Jack has more responsibility for the teens than he’s ever had before, which means bungling his way to raising them right.

It’s a TV formula, and in order for it to work, the ingredients need to be just so.  That’s not the case with Surviving Jack.  The script never goes beyond the obvious, and the cast doesn’t cohere with the charm that’s needed.  There are some actors, most notably Bryan Cranston, who can pop back and forth from warmhearted comedy to the deadliest serious drama without breaking a sweat, but on the evidence of this, Chris Meloni is far more at home in the worlds of Oz and SVU than he is in suburbia.  In fact, if you recall the occasional scenes where Meloni’s SVU character had to deal with his rebellious daughter and troubled marriage, which were tolerable interruptions to the show’s main stories at best, imagine an entire series of that, but played for laughs.  Buckley doesn’t have a chance to do much more than express sexual and familial embarrassment, and the rest of the cast makes little impression.  More important, there just aren’t a lot of laughs here, let alone any insight into growing up or family dynamics (Victor Nelli, Jr’s direction tries to keep things buoyant).

Like the network’s Dads and Enlisted,  Surviving Jack is FOX’s bid for the numbskull audience.  At one time, its American Idol lead-in on Thursdays would have been a gift, but with Idol running behind both CBS and ABC lately, the 9:30PM slot, FOX’s only sitcom of the night, may be an awkward fit.  Surviving may indeed be the word that comes to mind.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."