April 4, 2014

THE SKED Pilot + 1 Review: “Surviving Jack”


SURVIVING JACK:  Thursday 9:30PM on FOX

A lot can happen between the creation of a TV pilot and the production of regular episodes: writer/producers may be hired or fired, audience focus groups weigh in, networks and studios (which may have had their own turnover) give plenty of notes, helpful and otherwise, and critics start to rear their ugly heads. Tone, pace, casting, and even story can change. Here at THE SKED, we’re going to look past the pilots and present reviews of the first regular season episodes as well.

Previously… on SURVIVING JACK:  In the 1990s, Frankie Dunleavy (Connor Buckley) chafes under but also learns valuable life lessons from his disciplinarian father Jack (Christopher Meloni), who’s taking a larger role raising Frankie and his sister Rachel (Claudie Lee) while their mother Joanne (Rachael Harris) is resuming her education in law school.  Frankie has two mildly eccentric buddies, George (Kevin Hernandez) and Mikey (Tyler Foden) to help him get through adolescence and his family.

Episode 2:  The oddest thing about Surviving Jack‘s second episode, written by Executive Story Editors Jim Brandon and Brian Singleton, and directed by Joe Nussbaum, was that after the pilot had revolved in such great part over the changes in the family dynamic caused by Joanne’s return to school, here it was barely mentioned.  She was around for copious amounts of mothering throughout the episode, and the dynamic was that of a familiar, even old-fashioned, nuclear family.  It wasn’t clear whether that was an exception for this episode, or if that storyline isn’t going to be a feature going forward.

Otherwise, the episode was much like the pilot, playing again on the show’s major premise, which is the fearsomely macho yet lovable wisdom of dad Jack.  This time, Frankie, Mikey and George were determined to make their high school varsity baseball team, and Frankie felt compelled to ask his father for help.  Jack’s there’s-method-to-my-madness technique included waking the trio up for practice in the middle of the night, pretending to have a heart attack to teach Frankie not to get “rattled,” encouraging Mikey to imagine his own deadbeat father when smacking the baseball into the stands, and imparting his insights to Frankie about needing to leave George behind, rather than tanking his own try-out, when it was clear his friend was incapable of making the team.  Did Frankie make the team?  Why of course he did, because Jack may be odd, but he’s never wrong.

The B story was worse:  Joanne saw Rachel kissing a boy not her boyfriend, and morally strongarmed her daughter into telling her beau about it, because honesty is truly the best policy.

Meloni showed a marginally lighter touch in the episode, and the fact that the plot had Frankie actually ask for his assistance made the bullying nature of his parenthood less cutely abusive.  Still, this is simpleminded stuff, every story beat a predictable throwback to a thousand other TV fathers who knew best.  The gifted Rachael Harris can’t do much with Mom (whose devout hope is that their house becomes the hangout for the local teens), and none of the young actors have done anything interesting yet.  About the best that can be said of Jack so far is that it’s not as self-righteously shoddy as Last Man Standing.

We may not have Surviving Jack to kick around for long, since its opening ratings were at a sluggish 1.3 (way down from its American Idol lead-in, which admittedly isn’t what it used to be), and it can’t afford to lose much from there.  Of course, FOX is the network that recently renewed both The Mindy Project and Brooklyn Nine-Nine with ratings at that level or lower–on the other hand, surely a network can only renew so many sitcoms with flat ratings, and Jack isn’t likely to draw the young, upscale audience of those two.  The show itself suggests little likelihood of creative growth, and “surviving” may indeed turn out to be its desperate hope.

ORIGINAL VERDICT:  Change the Channel

PILOT + 1:  There Are Better Low-Rated Comedies–On Thursdays Alone


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."