Fall '02: 8 Simple Rules... For Stinking
Remember the Tony Danza movie She's Out of Control? It was all about Danza running around trying to cover his daughter's sinful body. And it was pretty creepy, because half the time it was Tony explaining how his daughter belonged to him and couldn't be trusted out on her own, and the other half was long lingering shots of the underage daughter in a bikini. You really couldn't win with that movie.
And 8 Simple Rules (formerly 8 Simple Rules for Dating my Teenage Daughter, and we all know what a good sign it is that they changed the name of the show before it even aired) is a lot like that show, with John Ritter in the place of Tony Danza. And that's a lateral move at best. People keep talking about John Ritter's triumphant return to the world of the sitcom, but it's not like he's been living in a cave ever since Three's Company. In fact, he's been pretty consistently stinking up the entertainment world with his patented brand of annoying blandness for years. His occasional appearances on Buffy or Felicity weren't marked by exquisite comic timing and delicate nuance; they were marked by people pointing at the screen and saying "Hey! It's John Ritter!"
I'm not excited about the presence of John Ritter, but I do like seeing Katey Sagal. I always thought she was a better actress than Married... With Children or Tucker allowed her to be. Of course, now I can't hear her talk without thinking of Leela on Futurama, but that's not necessarily such a bad thing. It's kind of weird that she's on the show, since your typical clueless-father-raises-three-children show doesn't have a role for a mother. But just before the pilot, she apparently went back to work or something, forcing Ritter (who's a columnist of some sort, who therefore doesn't need to go to the office for more than one scene per episode) to do all the parenting. Sagal is out of the home (and hence offscreen) so much that I never caught her character's name. I also never caught the name of John Ritter's character, who's usually just called "Dad."
John Ritter plays a guy with a teenage daughter, because that's what the network demographic research tells them is a big market. He's a very bad parent. It's not just that he constantly says deeply insulting things to all of his children, but he never seems to realize that he's not helping. Ritter seems constantly befuddled and shocked by his children's behavior. I think we're supposed to identify with him, but I keep wondering what his problem is. Hasn't he ever met his children before? He's constantly amazed by his daughter's clothes. In the first five minutes of the premiere, he gave three different "You are not wearing that!" speeches. Look, John: your daughter owns a wide variety of extremely slutty outfits. And she has a lot of male friends who help her sneak out in the middle of the night. Now that she's 17 (or whatever), it's a little late for you to notice all this.
Every bad show has a tragically wasted comedian in it somewhere. Remember Working, the Fred Savage vehicle? Oh, you don't? Well, if you did, you'd have noticed Dana Gould toiling in the background. On 8 Simple Rules, there are two: Larry Miller and Mo Gaffney. Larry Miller is used to being underused, having been the best part of a lot of terrible movies, like "Necessary Roughness," in which he played the weaselly guy. Mo Gaffney used to be Kathy Najimy's partner before Kathy forged a career out of being the perky nun in Sister Act and the voice of Hank's wife on King of the Hill. I've just realized that I've been reduced to talking about the careers of the former partners of the bit players on this show, which could probably be considered a digression. What I'm trying to get at is that I like both Larry Miller and Mo Gaffney, and I enjoyed their combined eight seconds of airtime.
There's a scene in the 8 Simple Rules... pilot where Ritter sees his tarted-up daughter abandoned at the mall by her sleazy boyfriend. And then the actress is replaced by younger and younger girls while sappy music plays. And we're supposed to be thinking how sweet it is that he sees his daughters as babies, but it really doesn't work. It could be because the music is exceptionally sappy, even for this sort of show. It could also be because I don't really want to see the images of an innocent five-year-old and a teenage hoochie juxtaposed like that. But it's probably because a show that's cheerfully stealing old Slutty Daughter jokes from Married With Children isn't going to get away with going for a heartwarming "Awwwwww!" moment.
Incidentally, the biggest omission from the show is that there weren't any rules. None! If I wanted to date his teenage daughter (and I really don't), I'd have no idea what rules I was supposed to follow. I could read the book the show is based on, I guess, but I think I've already spent enough of my life hearing about the problems faced by baby boomers. I suppose in twenty years I'll have to deal with John Ritter's latest comeback: 12 Simple Rules for Visiting Me in the Rest Home, You Ungrateful Whippersnappers.
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