Surviving Jack: A Soundtrack from the ’90s Preservation Society

Surviving Jack (Photo: Fox)

Surviving Jack stars Christopher Meloni as an over-the-top dad raising teenagers in 1991. If you love references, this may be your show.

Show

Surviving Jack — Thursdays at 9:30pm on Fox.

Premise

It’s 1991. Joanne Dunievy (Rachel Harris) has started law school, which means Jack (Christopher Meloni) has to step up his parenting responsibilities for their teenage kids: son Frankie (Connor Buckley) and daughter Rachel (Claudia Lee). Jack is a doctor and ex-military, so his methods come across as unorthodox.

Pedigree

Bill Lawrence (ScrubsCougar Town) is the executive producer. Full disclosure: I have not liked any of Bill Lawrence’s projects, so that doesn’t help me. The story is based on Justin Halpern’s autobiography I Suck at Girls.

What Works

Jack is a good character for Meloni and he does well with the material provided. Um…the Dunievys have a nice house and yard?

What Doesn’t Work

Where to begin? The rest of the cast leaves zero impression.1 The characters are not endearing, giving you no reason to root for them. The primary relationship in the show seems to be Jack and Frankie, but Buckley seems to be over his head in terms of the acting required. There were multiple instances where Buckley was not looking in the correct spot. In one scene, Frankie was speaking to his mother—who is about a foot shorter than him—but his eyes were speaking to someone at his height.

Since the show takes place in the past (1991, as said in the opening narration), that means the audience has to get pummeled with references. Here’s the thing TV writers: references ≠ comedy. If the show takes place in a time other than the present, just make sure to avoid anachronisms and we’re good. You don’t see Mad Men doing a song and dance every time something 1960s-ish comes up—it’s an accepted part of the reality and everyone goes about their business. If you are looking for a comedy example of how to do this properly, I strongly recommend the Brady Bunch movies from the mid-90s.

The lazy writing doesn’t stop at the references. In the 22-minute episode I counted 12 instances of music cues used to punctuate the scene. If you need someone else’s song to tell your story, chances are your story isn’t all that interesting. Only one of those 12 instances involved music within the action of the scene. Rachel, listening to her walkman, sings along to “Good Vibrations” by Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch on the drive to school. Jack comments that the music sounds terrible. COMEDY! Eyeroll. I would attribute this to pilot-itis, but the titles of the next two episodes are also song titles.

The rest of the look of the show does not read 1991 to me. Some of the clothes are correct, but there isn’t a thoroughness to achieve the aesthetic. For example, Frankie’s friend Mikey (Tyler Foden) is in a No Fear longsleeve-under-a-t-shirt-with-backwards-baseball-cap ensemble that feels a couple years too early.2 The hairstyles do not feel right, but I appreciate the show not going wig-crazy (*cough* Revenge flashbacks *cough*).

Verdict

The show order for Surviving Jack has already been reduced from 13 to 8, which isn’t the strongest vote of confidence. The 90s-ness of the show isn’t as off-putting as the 80s-ness of The Goldbergs, but there are too many other aspects that make this show a chore.

  1. Which is a shame: I really like Rachel Harris and want her to land an awesome gig.  
  2. Granted, I’m from the midwest, so that look may not have reached my neck of the woods until ’93 or ’94.  

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About Mike McComb 656 Articles
Mike has been writing about TV online since 2008, when he started the blog WTF Little House on the Prairie? The blog was a project to practice writing about television analytically prior to getting an MA in Television-Radio-Film from Syracuse University, or as he likes to call it "TV Camp." After a lengthy stint at TVLatest, Mike wanted to launch a site that brought in classic TV, diamonds in the rough, and the shows everybody watches. E-mail: mike@whatelseison.tv