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Stamos in Progress

Confession time. There are some things I like which I just shouldn’t. The arbiters of taste have declared that these things are too popular, or too just plain bad in some universal sense, to be liked by anyone intelligent. But in my perversity I persist in liking them. Justin Timberlake. “Titanic.” Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals. The comedic stylings of Gallagher. V.C. Andrews novels. Beef jerky. And John Stamos.

I can see that Full House was a lousy show. But if I find it on my TV, I’ll still watch it, just to see Stamos, Dave Coulier, and Bob Saget and the way they present the lousy lines they’re given. I find the three of them so likeable, I can’t help but feel with every line they give, they’re saying, “Yes, this show sucks. But we’re doing what we can with what we’re given.”

So when I saw that John Stamos was returning to TV in ABC’s mid-season series Jake in Progress, hell yes I put it in my TiVo!

I was not disappointed by the first four episodes. (Whether ABC is trying desperately to drum up interest in the show or burn off episodes so they can cancel it quickly I don’t know, but you should be able to find them running again soon.) I was not disappointed, but it would have been really, really hard to disappoint me, since my only expectation was that John Stamos would be in it. Then again Law & Order: Trial By Jury managed this feat by working poor Jerry Orbach into his grave.

Jake in Progress follows in the footsteps of such brilliant shows as Malcolm in the Middle and Scrubs — to say nothing of such crappy shows as Hidden Hills — in ditching the laugh track and sticking to a drama-style single camera. It also is set in New York City, like, um, what, thirty shows this season? My man John stars as the eponymous star, a womanizing “man-whore” who beds so many women he can’t even remember all of them. In between hot chicks Jake works as a publicist, further confirming that Hollywood writers can’t imagine anyone who doesn’t work in show biz. This does give the writers a chance to poke fun at celebrity culture, though, so maybe we can forgive them.

Given this information and sneaking a peek or two at the commercials the network’s been running, you might assume the progress Jake is in is that of becoming less of a he-man woman-hater and more committed and responsible. But Jake in Progress is notable not just for what it is but also for what it isn’t. While it might seem like the pilot would be set to “auto” — Jake the floozy meets a strong, beautiful woman, falls in love, and spends the rest of the series trying to rein in his baser impulses while pursuing a relationship with the girl of his dreams — the actual show, so far, has not even given a hint of wanting to reform Jake. In fact, the love interest from the first episode — the one Jake would be presumably in progress toward — didn’t show up in at least the next three episodes and, for all we know, may never be back. Apparently Jake’s a callow cad and the show likes him that way.

For contrast, though, Jake has a pathetic supporting actor. He is so pathetic he wasn’t even cast as himself in his wife’s autobiographical movie, but was forced to play his own best man: Perennial sad sack Ian Gomez co-stars as Jake’s married friend Adrian. When Jake asks how many gorgeous women with butterfly tattoos on the small of their back can he sleep with, Adrian tells him, “My wife doesn’t even have a small of her back.” And then about having a family, “One day you’ll have that again, and then you’ll find… it’s overrated.” And when we finally do meet the wife? She’s not some Hollywood idea of fat and married — i.e. thin and gorgeous — she’s actually a little scary.

Of course, none of this would matter if the show weren’t funny. And it is. It may not be the most original show on God’s green Earth, but it’s consistently offbeat and amusing.

There is Rick Hoffman, who drops into Stamos’ life as Patrick, the series’ resident Kramer. Patrick is a performance artist in the David Blaine mold, although he hates Blaine and also is not quite as dedicated to his art. For example, in the pilot, he’s locked himself in a glass box outside his ex-girlfriend’s apartment, from where he keeps calling her on his cell phone. Later he confronts Jake in the selfsame apartment; when asked what he’s doing out of his box, he replies, “I have errands, dude.” Patrick may be the Reverend Jim of the show but he’s an original character all the same.

There is also Wendie Malick, finally ditching the airhead persona and playing a woman with such enormous reserves of nastiness the only person in her office who doesn’t run away at the sight of her is Jake. Stamos and Malick show genuine chemistry as the two workmates in a refreshingly non-romantic way. I doubt we’ll be seeing a will-they-or-won’t-they between them, but the two actors crackle like no TV couple since Ted Danson and Shelley Long.

Jake in Progress, in short, may not be the greatest thing since All in the Family, but it is better than okay. As a comeback vehicle, many actors have done much, much worse. Then again, this is from the guy who likes liverwurst.

But I can’t help thinking: In a world where William Shatner can star in not one, not two, not three, but four hit series despite displaying all the acting ability of a tube sock, can’t we find room for John Stamos and his second act?


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