The Complete Series (1994) (Shout! Factory-2006)
Not even a guest appearance by Oprah Winfrey – playing no less than herself – could save this sitcom from biting the dust. Nor an appearance by Quentin Tarentino, at the peak of his white-hotness from Pulp Fiction– could pump this turkey’s chest back to life. Even a pre-famous Jack Black, as an alt-rocker who can’t be happy unless he’s bummed, could not manage to rock the ratings.
In fact, not even the star of the show – the hilarious, clear-thinking Margaret Cho – could make her own series her own, and give it the place in history it deserves: the first network sitcom about an Asian-American family.
It shouldn’t have been saved. It was not good. And even Cho herself, in a frank and funny interpretation of the series, admits it.
“This is NOT based on my stand-up comedy,” she clarifies firmly on the hilarious commentary track, as the credits roll, claiming “Based on the stand-up comedy of Margaret Cho.”
What Cho does concede, after rightly claiming that the series was “bland, middle of the road” was, “we tried.”
They sure did. All the actors were competent (including B.D. Wong as her brother, who moved on to a long career, including roles in Father of the Bride and Law and Order: Special Victims Unit). The setting (a San Francisco brownstone) was pretty and upscale-comfy in a Huxtable kind of way. Yet somehow, it didn’t come out right. The twenty-plus episodes on this DVD are barely tolerable, and a gold star to anyone who can sit still through even one disk.
However, this collection comes highly recommended.
Her painfully honest commentary is worth the agony of enduring the episodes.
“The network thought I was too fat to play the role of myself,” Cho explains at one point, then discusses the inhumane diet she pursued in order to “look the part.” As well, she explains that the network hired a “Korean consultant” to make the Korean-American family depicted here seem more “real,” as most of the actors spoke not a word of Korean and were actually real people – as opposed to stock sitcom types.
In fact, the terrific Amy Hill, who plays the backwards grandma right off the boat (and meant to be the breakout character), is actually younger, native-born and half-Japanese.
A little more reality would have helped. Instead, we get the gentle, old-fashioned sitcom same-old, same-old. Each tiresome situation is mired in a morality play (old-fashioned values versus modern fun; culture clashes can be wacky; embarrass your family, and/or your family embarrasses you, mild disgrace, vanilla shame, and “God Bress America”).
Although in real life, Cho claims to get along famously with her mother and father, the call here is for big-time generational conflict.
“You want to be American?” her mother screeches at her. “Go listen to your hippity hoppity music and go wear your backwards baseball cap.”
Her TV mom accuses her daughter of having “the morals of an alley cat,” and Cho is meant to shake it up and keep us guessing as a rockin’, rollin’ nineties babe, dating white guys, hanging out at a club called The Skank, digging on grunge and sporting short skirts and leather (“I’m supposed to be some wild child,” Cho observes, “Yet I look so Blossom to myself.”).
However, once Cho’s character feels humbled at the end of each story, her on-screen parents are happy (“I draw the line at dating criminals,” she confesses at the end of one episode.).
She explains that, in general, Korean people are emotionally shut down, so the sitcom-like bickering and bantering somehow doesn’t ring true.
“There is no logic in this show,” Cho claims at another point in the commentary. “I wish it had worked.”
It’s just that the pressure was on, and Cho was merely a semi-innocent young girl plucked from the brick walls of the comedy clubs. It was the last triumph of network television, when every Tim, Roseanne and Jerry were shoe-horned into contracts for sitcoms.
If not falling into the brilliance of a Seinfeld or the middle-American acceptance of a Home Improvement, at least we have the post-game color commentary from Cho, who chooses to make some outrageous comments the way you would if she were sitting on the couch with you: “That suit is so early nineties! It’s so Heart! It’s so Ann Wilson!” Or watching herself and her TV mom have a heart-to-heart in the kitchen: “Our hair is so big!” And the best line of all: “Oh, that skirt I stole.”
There are also a few lines of funny: when Grandma gets a makeover, she is called “Grandmalicious,” and a concession at the food court is called “Chicken, My Friend.” And when mother and daughter are arguing unknowingly in front of a video camera in the TV department of a store, the customers think they are watching The Joy Luck Club.
“I don’t think it was a bad show,” Cho admits, “but it’s not really what I would have liked it to be.”
However, there was a happy ending: a lot of the furniture from the set wound up on The Drew Carey Show.
Copyright ©2007 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: July 23, 2007.