Thursday, October 14, 2010

Report from the Set: 'Mike & Molly'...

My Life, Made Possible by Pop Culture really wanted to love the Mike & Molly pilot. For one thing, it's about damn time that Melissa McCarthy got a leading role. For another, though, it's about damn time that there were some people on television who actually look like real people! Though the official review has come and gone (over on my Examiner page), I will just say that the episode didn't live up to my wildest hopes. Billy Gardell and McCarthy are super cute as an on-screen couple, but their "every couple" nature got completely overshadowed by the jabs at their weight.

Pilots can be rough, though, because they have a daunting task of introducing all of the characters, their relationships to each other, their wants, goals, and needs, as well as a stand-alone plot that is indicative of the weekly tone of the show. It's a lot for such a short amount of screen time. So My Life, Made Possible by Pop Culture didn't want to count this one out just yet! And in order to give it the best chance possible, I attended a taping of the new sitcom out in Burbank last night. After all, things often seem funnier when they're live in front of you-- and you're plied with free candy and surrounded by a highly energetic crowd who has already gotten the laugh track going.

And the truth is, where Mike & Molly was once full of slapstick moments and pratfalls leading to broken furniture, it is now much more focused on raunchy puns and suggestive stories. Yes, it is still extremely broad comedy, but at least it's no longer borderline offensive. This turn in the dialogue allows Molly's mother (Swoosie Kurtz) and sister (Katy Mixon) to do everything from give Molly personal grooming tips before dates to dig for the juicy dirt when she returns home from them. Hopefully it may even allow them B and C story lines in the future in which they get men of their own, even for brief minutes in time.

Everything about attending a Mike & Molly taping feels like attending a performance of a play at a small, local theater. When you walk into the audience section of the soundstage, for example, they have a program on every chair, detailing who wrote the episode you are about to see, who directed it, who is in the cast (including guest stars), etc. They also have limited merchandising options in the form of mugs and recyclable tote bags, but rather than charge you for the items embossed with the show's logo, they give them away to the most spirited audience members. The only difference between sitcoms and theater, though, is of course the wall of cameras between the actors and the audience.

Director James Burrows
runs this show like the well-oiled machine that usually only third and fourth year sitcoms are. He is a pro, and he demands as much from everyone around him. He notices every little detail, from needing a phone to ring a beat earlier in a scene so there is no pause after an actor finishes a line to the extra in the back row of the OA meeting who is looking just a little too bored for the important, poignant story Molly is telling. And he is always calm and collected, even when working with the Biggs' family dog or when one of the guest stars flubbed a line and then let out an expletive.

Mike & Molly feels almost like it should be told in half-animation: the world in which the titular characters live is a bit cartoonish, as if it has been hand-drawn. Yet those two characters themselves, and the relationship in which they are embarking upon, is very grounded and relatable. They worry about taking things too quickly and freaking the other one out, not wanting to go to the bathroom in the other's apartment, and whether or not they should buy each other mementos to show off just how much they like each other. Watching McCarthy and Gardell work opposite each other is like watching a long-time couple just go about a normal routine. They gel well together, and it was extremely adorable to watch them hug and congratulate each other after scenes.

The one thing that was kind of disappointing about being at Mike & Molly is that the living room sets for both Mike and Molly's houses are set to either far side of the Warner Brothers soundstage. With these being pivotal settings for so many important moments but just out of eyeline for the bleachered audience, we had to watch the action unfold on monitors hung above our heads rather than live and mere feet in front of us. It depleted some of the energy. Even the least funny joke in the diner scene got louder laughs than some of the best ones in the living rooms, simply because the diner is set smack dab right in front of the bleachers.

Also, I am legitimately convinced that I saw Andrew Lauer
, who played the roller blading Charlie on nineties sitcom Caroline in the City, working behind-the-scenes on the show last night. I looked him up on IMDb, and he is not credited for this one (as of yet), nor could I really figure out what he was doing there, since he wasn't manning a camera or wrangling lights or cables, but if it was not him, then the dude definitely has a perfect double walking around. And in Hollywood that is more than creepy, it could mean the end to your career as an actor. Your face is the moneymaker!

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