Thursday, October 2, 2008

Lifetime's Rita Whispers To A Scream... Of Frustration...

Lifetime has a new original series (this time a comedy) starring Nicole Sullivan, Richard Ruccolo, Tisha Campbell-Martin, and Ricky (now going by Raviv) Ullman. A traditional three-camera sitcom set in your traditional family home, Sullivan and Ruccolo play forty-something parents contending with two jobs, two kids, one numbskull teenage boyfriend, and a feisty mail carrier. Everything about Rita Rocks screams old-school in the most stereotypical of ways, and its canned laugh track feels just as outdated to boot.

In the first episode, which plays like a pilot, Sullivan's title character Rita struggles to get back some of her "spark" (and a little deserved "me time") after getting turned down for a promotion at work and grounding her teenage daughter over a scandalous photo found on said teenage boyfriend (Ullman)'s cell phone. She finds her old guitar in the garage and decides she wants to play music again, to which said feisty mail carrier (Campbell-Martin) and nosy neighbor (Ian Gomez) drag over their respective instruments and join the band. The show is full of old-fashioned sitcom traps: physical gags that leave Sullivan hanging from a rafter in the garage set and misunderstandings that leave Sullivan angry at her husband when really he thought he was doing something nice for her. The funny thing is, once they begin to sing, the show's tone does not change from slightly sappy comedy to hard rock music video like the title might suggest, as Rita does not actually live a secret second life as a rock star. Instead, the tone softens even more, if that is possible, and the volume even seems to drop, as if Lifetime is no longer making "television for women" but for senior citizens.
Rita does not rock as a wife or mother, either, which is clear by the multi-colored corkboard square on her kitchen wall, which is her filing system, date book, and To Do list all wrapped into one. She manages to keep times and people straight (but just barely, as she still forgets having to bring a cake to a birthday party a day earlier than she even thought it would be held). It is almost unnerving to see a woman in this haggard role: one usually reserved for sitcom husbands who can never do anything right. In fact, Ruccolo as her sitcom husband isn't even overweight, so the one area in which this show tried to do something out of the ordinary for the genre, and it has just left us scratching our heads, knowing something doesn't feel right. All of the other characters-- everyone from the precocious younger daughter to that sassy "ethnic" friend (who is given the one funny line when she pointedly looks at the laundry and exclaims "The whites can take care of themselves!")-- are amalgamations of stereotypes we have seen again and again and again. If this show is trying to be revolutionary or just relevant remains to be seen, but they are failing on both counts.

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