Rebecca Barry Hill: Sitcom that's stuck in the past

There is potential in John Stamos' Grandfathered. Photo / Supplied
There is potential in John Stamos' Grandfathered. Photo / Supplied

There was always something comforting about revisiting a character each week as they bumbled their way through work/home/love life. These days, we can binge-watch our way through entire series, spending hours with said bumbler before moving on to a whole new show. The half-hour sitcom has not only managed to survive life on demand, it's gained a new lease of laughs through hits such as Silicon Valley and Master of None. Joining the less groundbreaking but still popular examples of the genre (The Big Bang Theory, Mom) is Dr Ken, an old-fashioned sitcom disguised as a comedy for the times.

I say disguised because in a few ways, it's to be applauded. One of the few shows to focus on a Korean-American doctor and his family, and the doc's multicultural friends, it stars an original comic with broad appeal. But try as it might to raise a laugh, you know that when the first line refers to haemorrhoids, it's not off to a great start.

Dr Ken (Wednesdays, TV2, 7.30pm) is played by Ken Jeong, a real doctor in a former life, who uses that to inform his character.

As anyone who has seen Jeong in Community or The Hangover would know, you wouldn't want him anywhere near your colon, given his tendency for manic outbursts and crazy arm flailing.

Nor would you want him faking an Asian accent to get rid of you. On screen though - or even stage - you'd think this might work. He has proven himself to be a very funny guy.

Ken Jeong falls flat in Dr Ken.
Ken Jeong falls flat in Dr Ken.

Instead, Jeong's OTT kookiness is strange medicine in the world of the family-friendly sitcom, his wacky shtick jarring with the cosy, dull sitcom fare we've seen a million times.

Because even though he's tactless and goofy, Dr Ken is just trying to get by as a (snore) good guy: parenting the creative but clueless kid risking embarrassment at the school talent show, over-enthusing about his therapist wife's offer to have sex, and keeping his teenaged daughter out of harm's way by stalking her online.

The latter was the only storyline in Wednesday's pilot episode that felt close to current. Ken tracked her to a "rave" (okay, not that part), and got arrested after asking around for "Molly".

"What are you in for?" asked the guy he was sharing a jail cell with.

"My daughter has the same name as a Class A controlled substance."

On the same channel, Grandfathered, (Mondays, 8pm), the new John Stamos sitcom, does a better job of updating the genre, doing away with a laugh track and zipping along on an edgier script. It's also a decent vehicle for Stamos' suave appeal. The former Full House star plays Jimmy Martino, a womanising, fast-talking restaurateur who discovers a son and grandchild he didn't know he had. Now he's caught between his selfish bachelor ways and having the family he tells prospective sexual partners he's always wanted. He's also intrigued by the idea of helping his son win over the baby's mother, (played by Christina Milian), while reconnecting with his ex, Sara (played by the likeable Paget Brewster).

"It's almost like she hasn't slept in a restaurant kitchen before," says his colleague as Jimmy races between charming the baby and his high-profile customers.

Cue many more episodes in which he balances toddlers and tortellini - a not particularly brainy premise, perhaps. But at least Grandfathered makes an effort to remain modern. "I'm cool. I watch Portlandia. I was going to go to Coachella last year," says Sara. "But then I decided not to."

Twee and contrived? A little. But this sitcom has come a lot further than Dr Ken, not to mention Stamos' other show, in which he reprises his role as Joey on the Netflix reunion comedy, Fuller House.

- TimeOut

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