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Fall '02: Bad News, Bonnie

Judging by the entries in our Dead Pool, Life With Bonnie doesn't have much of a chance. I haven't been tabulating them or anything, because I leave that to the higher-ups, but it seems like every mail call brings another bag full of people predicting Bonnie Hunt's imminent departure from the airwaves. But what's odd is that most of these people bear no ill will toward Ms. Hunt herself. In fact, they seem to admire her and appreciate her comedic gifts, while at the same time confidently forecasting a Hunt-less future.

Of course, if you were to take your cues from the kind of mail we get, you'd think that the cancellation of Farscape rivaled the sack of Rome. You'd also think that Tim Curry was the most popular man on the planet and that spelling and grammar are no longer taught in our nation's public schools. You'd be right about that last part. But my point is that much as I'd like to just take our audience's collective word for the fact that Life With Bonnie is going down and going down hard, I felt I owed it to myself, to the organization I represent, and to you, the TeeVee reader, to find out for myself.

The official description of the show is that Bonnie "juggles the roles of wife, mother and host of the local morning talk show Morning Chicago." The use of the word "juggles" is a danger sign, because it means there's more than one show being crammed into the same half-hour. Some of the time, it's a cloying family sitcom, where Bonnie grapples with the challenges of a husband, wacky maid, two smartmouth kids, and an obligatory baby. This show is terrible. It needs to go away.

The other half of the show is set at Bonnie's morning show. Usually in this context, you wouldn't get to see that much of the actual show, because Hollywood likes to make shows that go behind the scenes of imaginary television shows, like Larry Sanders and Sports Night. But on Life With Bonnie, they just show the show-within-a-show, if that makes sense. It's just endless interview or cooking segments which have nothing to do with whatever plot the family segments had.

My theory is that Bonnie Hunt pitched two different shows to ABC. First, she pitched a largely-improvised morning show parody, probably mentioning Fernwood 2-Nite fairly prominently. And then, in case the network suits thought that was too daring, she said sarcastically, "or I could just do a generic family sitcom." And then they decided to take both shows and run them at the same time.

It's not the first time something like that's happened. In the first season of Barney Miller, it was half Barney and his wife, and half police station. And then they noticed that Barney's wife wasn't as interesting as Max Gail and Abe Vigoda and took that part of the show out. I mention that because I find it interesting and mention it at every opportunity. If I were the one reviewing Firefly, I'd probably mention it there, on the pretext that Ron Glass is in the show.

But to get back to Life With Bonnie, it's a hard show to review, because no one from the family is in the morning show, and no one from the morning show stops by the family. They're on different sets, and I wouldn't be a bit surprised if they used different audiences.

So let's take this one show at a time.

Show A, the annoying family, is, as I've said, terrible. It's all about running around frantically and screaming and the smart-mouth kids. It's not good. Even for a wacky-family sitcom, it's not good. If the whole show were like it, our Dead Pool contestants would have an excellent chance of being right, because television chews up and spits out bad family sitcoms all the time.

Show B, the morning show, is mostly improvised. And it's not really all that funny. It's amusing, but only in the same way that an actual morning show is, including the bits where the host and guests laugh at their own alleged cleverness. In fact, the second episode (featuring David Duchovny as a weatherman, although I always thought stunt casting came much later in a show's lifetime) features almost Tim-Conway-and-Harvey-Korman levels of actors laughing. It doesn't entirely break the illusion of the show, because actual local morning shows aren't 100% professional, if you know what I mean. But when I'm watching actors enjoying themselves so much, it makes me sad that I'm not enjoying the show that much. If the whole show were the improvised morning show, it would probably never have gotten on the air. But if it did somehow get on the air, it would probably get cancelled pretty quickly too.

It doesn't come off so much as a parody of morning shows as just a morning show where the host doesn't know what's going on. It gets laughs from the studio audience, but, frankly, not from me. People seem to be laughing at the idea that they're watching an improvised segment, not so much because they're seeing a funny segment, if you see what I mean.

The brief bits where Bonnie interacts with her crew (which includes David Alan Grier, who tried and failed to be a frontman last year with DAG) are fairly entertaining, but they last almost no time. They're about a minute or so, shoved between Shows A and B. If the whole show were about the backstage antics, it would probably get cancelled pretty quickly. Because while Hollywood likes to make television shows about the process of making television shows, there's not a great deal of evidence that the American public wants to watch them.

Now, having said all that, I still don't hate Bonnie Hunt. I'm not sure where everyone got this big crush on her, because even her official bio can only claim "She became familiar to audiences with her cameos in 'Rain Man' and 'Dave.'" What? Since when does doing cameos make you familiar? For that matter, aren't cameos things normally done by people who are already famous? If you're not yet "familiar to audiences," you're not doing a cameo; you've just got a bit part. Anyway, Ms. Hunt was also the mother in "Beethoven." And "Beethoven's 2nd." Don't go by the fact that I don't appear to have heard of her; people seem to like her. At least, the people entering our Dead Pool do. But that hasn't stopped them from predicting failure for her. And who am I to argue with you, our perceptive readers?


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