October 7, 2011

THE SKED’S PILOT + 1 REVIEW: “How To Be A Gentleman”

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Written by: Mitch Salem
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A lot can happen between the creation of a TV pilot in the spring and production of episodes for the regular season:  a writing/producing team is hired, audience focus groups weigh in, networks and studios (which may have had their own turnover in the off-season) give plenty of notes, both helpful and otherwise, and critics begin to rear their ugly heads.  The results can include changes to tone, pace, casting and even story.  Here at THE SKED, we’re going to look past the pilots and present reviews of the first regular episodes of this year’s new series as well.

Previously… on HOW TO BE A GENTLEMAN:  Andrew (series creator David Hornsby) is happy to be an oddity:  a prim and proper writer of magazine columns about etiquette who prides himself on behaving in an old-fashioned gentlemanly manner at all times.  Despite the fact that his peculiarity has driven off his wife, and that even his mother (Nancy Linehan), sister Janet (Mary-Lynn Rajskub) and brother-in-law Mike (Rhys Darby) regard him as an alien in their midst, life is basically good.  Then a new publisher takes over the magazine, demotes Andrew’s accepting boss (Dave Foley) and demands that Andrew’s columns become hipper and more in touch with modern reality.  As it happens, Janet and Mike have just bought Andrew a birthday gift certificate for a personal training session, which turns out to be given by Bert (Kevin Dillon).  Bert used to bully Andrew in high school, but now he’s eager to help Andrew become a “real man.”  Andrew somewhat hesitantly submits to Bert’s tutoring, and that will lay the cornerstone for a new friendship.

Episode 2:  Just in case the show’s premise weren’t contrived enough, the second episode of Gentleman, written by Hornsby and directed by Pam Fryman, pushes things in an even more sitcommy direction:  Bert isn’t just Andrew’s new life guide and trainer, the two of them are now roommates, because although Bert tries to make Andrew believe he’s moving in to Andrew’s apartment in order to intensify their training on a 24/7 basis, in fact Bert lost his own apartment when he put all his money into the gym.  This development unfortunately emphasizes what’s most repetitive and predictable about the show, namely the Andrew/Bert byplay. 

The main storyline of the episode has Bert encouraging Andrew to make passes at all the best-looking women in a bar, so Andrew will be rejected repeatedly and thus become immune to rejection.  To his own surprise, Andrew instead meets a woman who’s game for an evening together; but naive as he is, he thinks it’s true love, and ignores Bert’s sage advice that it was only a one-night stand.  The story puts the two men together almost constantly, reinforcing the dynamic between them over and over (Bert is crude but good-hearted; Andrew is endlessly deluded).  It’s already starting to feel suffocating, and the show is only 2 episodes old.  

The B story is actually more entertaining, except that it doesn’t really have an ending:  Mike is a New Zealand immigrant, and although his and Janet’s marriage is completely genuine, they have to be tested by Homeland Security to make sure he didn’t marry her for a green card–which is complicated by the fact that Janet can’t handle tests and goes completely blank at the most routine questions.  Rajskub and Darby have a complimentary off-beat charm that makes them far more pleasant to watch than Johnny Drama Bert repeatedly explaining the rules of guy-hood to Andrew.

The premiere ratings for How To Be A Gentleman were underwhelming (we’ll see how it holds up in a little while), and getting off to an inauspicious series start creatively won’t help any.  The show needs to tread a very precise line between the oddball and the traditional if it’s going to work, and initial signs are that it’s in danger of a tilt.
Original Verdict:  Potential DVR Alert
Pilot + 1:  Needs to Figure Out Its Tone


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."