Wednesday, June 11, 2008

"According to Jim" Best Seen Live

Me in the shadow of a Studio City walk of fame plaque for My Three Sons
Going to L.A. without seeing a live television show is like traveling to Arizona without seeing the Grand Canyon. It shouldn't be done. So said I to the girls during our California adventure, reduced to mere memory after rejoining the rat race. Have we really been home for more than a week?

Sadly, yes. The weather is hotter in Baltimore, the air more humid, and gas now approaches the price seen at Culver City gas stations. I shudder to think of the going rate there today. Must be way past $5.00 and rapidly closing in on $5.50. No wonder everyone wants to rip apart the oil executives.

But getting back to the taping, all three of us had tickets to see According to Jim, that whacky sitcom starring Jim Belushi. It was just about the only thing taping during the last week of May, so I figured why not. I've always been a fan of Courtney Thorne-Smith, Jim Belushi is SNL connected (big fan of the deceased brother, but I'm sure Jim hears that all the time), and thought it would be fun to watch the production of a weekly sitcom.

Girls pose at walk of fame outside studio of According to Jim
The girls were actually going to join me until some attendant at the ABC studio garage told us the taping wouldn't be over until 10 p.m. He also said we couldn't leave early. That set the girls in a tailspin because the show was set to begin at 6:00 p.m. and they had plans at 7:30. Why they would prefer galavanting about town with tony teenage friends over a sitcom taping with me, I have no idea. All I know is the thought of being held captive by a television program for almost four hours coupled with the loss of their cell phones (no cell phones or cameras allowed in the studio) was more than they could bear.

Once again, they had their friends pick them up at a designated spot and I was left to fend for myself. Not a bad deal since I'm used to being on my own, just annoying because everyone else in line had a buddy to talk to during the lags. Yes, I tried the friendly, personable lone person in line routine, talking to people nearby, finding out where they were from, etc., but that got old fast. I can chat forever if given the chance, but I don't think other people appreciate it. Like when you're traveling on a train or plane and the single person next to you natters incessantly until you think you're going to go out of your mind. I just hate being that person.

And so, as the conversation of nearby people began to wane, I took that as a hint to stop yammering. I even tried moving away as they began seating us in the audience, but it didn't work out. An usher verbally removed me from my prime seat in the first row saying they were reserved for "special" people, a group to which I couldn't lay claim. As luck would have it, they placed me in an open seat next to the people I had over chatted while waiting in line. Great. No one to talk to for over four hours. If the show wasn't funny, guards or no guards, I'm out of there. No one would force me to compromise my sanity for some half hour sitcom.

As it turned out, the show was rather funny. Larry Joe Campbell, Jim's overweight brother-in-law Andy, is a riot. Jim is the perfect foil for his zaniness, though I suspect Larry could play funny man against anyone.

The episode entitled "The New Best Friend" involves finding a pal for Jim's wife, Cheryl, who rambles on about poop and swatches without realizing she's as boring as a lecture on the history of paint. When her best friend moves out of town (probably to get away from her), Jim is stuck as her new listening patsy, a role he can't handle. The men concoct a scheme to get Andy's girlfriend to bond with Cheryl which involves a whopper about another girlfriend coming on to Andy and, well, you'll just have to watch when the show airs. Christmas decorations permeated the set, meaning all things being equal, the episode should run some time in December '08.

Overall, a good time was had by all although I found it difficult to laugh at the same jokes when a scene taped more than twice. Every now and then they would change the lines to spice things up, but for the most part, the dialogue remained the same. How many times can you genuinely guffaw when Jim takes multiple beers out of the fridge in anticipation of a late night wifey gabfest? After the first take, okay it's funny, but then the gag loses its luster. Man, we were troopers of an audience. Not many of us left when the show wrapped (as it turns out, you could leave the taping early, darn that garage attendant), and those who hung in managed to laugh convincingly at the multiple takes.

Truthfully, I attribute the success of the taping to the show's MC, Michael Burger, a comedian extraordinaire in his own right. Michael's style is a mixture of Don Rickles, Jerry Seinfeld, and Henny Youngman. He had people in the audience laughing like mad, competing for prizes, and telling stories about themselves. I especially enjoyed the couple from Nebraska married for over fifty years, you bet. At one point, Michael even allowed some sisters in the audience to get up and sing. These women had truly amazing voices that wowed the audience. Seriously, somebody needs to hire an agent.

In the end, the cast rewarded our efforts by taking questions from the audience and signing autographs. Michael said a full water bottle with Jim's autograph like the one pictured below was auctioned on eBay for sixty-five bucks. I was so thirsty I drank mine, but did manage to snag the autographs of Jim, Larry, and Michael. For now, the bottle sits with the other autograph crap we have on display. Maybe one day when the show is out of production, I'll consider selling. Of course by then the value will probably drop to nothing on a dime.

No one had any questions for Jim which seemed like a waste of a perfectly good celebrity. That's when I playfully threw out "Jan or Marcia?" as a query, but nobody so much as chuckled. Not only that, Jim had no idea what I meant, professing to be raised without television by Albanian alcoholics. Michael to the rescue, he knew it was a reference to The Brady Bunch and added "Along the lines of boxers or briefs, Jim." Whew. I wouldn't be known as the crazy chatty lady sitting all by her lonesome after all.

For the record, Jim did answer "Jan." Atta boy, Jim. You're my kind of guy.