In 10 Words or Less
One woman and her circle of male friends
Loves: Sitcoms, sports writing
Likes: Jim Gaffigan
Dislikes: Sports cliches
Hates: "Sex and the City"
Perhaps it's just the unending and sickening hype for the Sex and the City movie opening this week, but watching "My Boys" made me think of that overrated faux-feminist series. Narrated by the series' star, the show follows a single female writer who spends more time hanging out with her pals than earning a living, lamenting the state of her and buddies' love lives. What makes this show different, is P.J. (TV veteran Jordana Spiro) Is a beat writer covering the Chicago Cubs, so she's not a vapid New York fashionista like Carrie Bradshaw, and her pals are all guys. (Drawing a connection is no leap on anyone's part, as In the extras, creator Betsy Thomas mentions the HBO series as an anti-inspiration, while a later episode makes a not-so-subtle episode-long dig at "Sex.")
After checking out the first season of Thomas' "Boys," it's clear that the two series' lead protagonists share similar qualities, including conveniently flexible self-esteem and maturity, bad taste in guys and a willingness to fall into bed with ease. Everything beyond the two leads couldn't be more different in these shows, which explains why owners of all types of genitalia can find something to like here. Sure, hiding a romantic comedy inside of sports didn't work for Fever Pitch, but "My Boys" has a much more likeable cast, only with a more girly storyline, as PJ, with the aid of her ultra-femme pal Stephanie, tries to find Mr. Right. Unfortunately, that's hard for a girl who would rather hang out at home, watch the game and play poker than dress up and go out clubbing, as her job as a sports writer and her friendships with a gaggle of regular joes makes her a bit of a tomboy (though as noted before, when it works for her, she'll squeal like a 12-year-old girl.) The near schizophrenic split between her one-of-the-guys persona and her teen-girl side gets annoying, mainly because it makes her so predictable, especially when she's dealing with hot guys.
Her guy friends are a much better reason to tune in, as the show manages to make five similar guys into distinct and enjoyable characters, led by Jim Gaffigan's semi-miserable suburban outcast Andy, brother of PJ. Taking full-advantage of Gaffigan's understated delivery and silly charm, Andy steals almost every scene he's in, and takes a starring role in a few episodes, including "Managers," where free from his wife for a few days, he goes absolutely over-the-edge. His move from Chicago to the outer reaches actually plays a big part in last few episodes of the season, getting the rest of the crew out of their usual haunts, which helps to freshen things up. PJ's other friends, including DJ and ex-college roomie Brendan, nebbish collectables dealer Kenny and Cubs PR guy Mike are the kinds of guys you'd want to hang out at a bar with, which is exactly what PJ's fellow sports writer Bobby (Kyle Howard) learns when he's brought into the inner circle. Serving as the audience's "in" with this tight-knit crew, Howard is funny and non-threatening, letting him quickly form a friendship with the gang, yet attractive enough to be worthy of PJ's attention. The boundaries between friends and lovers is a theme that crops up often, and helps eliminate any potential will-they-won't-they tension, since any interest probably means they will.
The plots of the first-season's episodes aren't breaking any new ground as far as working women/circle of friends comedy goes, but dressed up in a sports motif, they do get a bit new lustre. The narration though threatens to drive the concept into the ground, as PJ compares EVERYTHING to sports, which results in some extremely forced bits of internal dialogue that will get you to roll your eyes at some point. It's odd considering that PJ and Bobby are both beat writers, yet they rarely seem to be working unusual hours. Perhaps it's because it's baseball in Chicago, where the day game is king, but I don't know a single sports writer covering a team who has enough free time for a regular nightly poker game, the way PJ's friends do. Thankfully there's more than enough sports material in these episodes to keep things moving between dates, as PJ lines up a string of guys unlikely to work for her. Add in some memorable guests, like Johnny Galecki's "Trouty," a character who needs to be experienced to be believed. (I don't think there's anything this guy could do that I wouldn't watch.) Galecki is joined by a few other familiar funny faces in the guest rolls, including Laurie Metcalf, Nicole Sullivan, Ian Gomez and Jeremy Sisto, rounding out an impressive regular cast.
The series is a bit unconventional for a sitcom, as it's shot almost like a feature film, and features a storyline that builds as the season progresses, leading to one of the most obnoxious cliffhangers in recent memory, following an episode inspired by legendary Chicago-based film Ferris Bueller's Day Off. It's these kinds of ups and downs, like PJ's fluctuating personality that are the most noticeable issues with the show. When PJ is part of the group and not striking out on her own, and the show balances work, love and friendship, something we saw more often toward the end of the season, the series is a lot of fun, and crosses all sorts of demographic lines, even coming off as laugh-out-loud funny, like when PJ and the guys visit Andy out in the suburbs in "The Estates of Hoffman," the intervention in "Douchebag in the City," or any time Trouty makes a return. It's just proof that this show really is at its best when it's about friends first and foremost.
The 22 first-season episodes of "My Boys" are spread, eight, eight and six, across three DVDs, which are stored in a slipcased pair of clear ThinPak cases, with covers that list creative teams and synopses for each episode. The discs have static anamorphic widescreen menus, with options to watch all the episodes, select individual shows, adjust subtitles and check out extras (where applicable.) There are no audio options, through subtitles are available in French, along with closed captioning.
It was surpring to see that the series is presented in anamorphic widescreen, and the episodes look terrific, though the way they are shot (especially when inside PJ's apartment) gives the show a a softer look than your usual comedu series. The color is vivid, the level of fine detail is rather impressive (you can see woodgrain in a firpelace in the background of one scene) and the blacks are nice and heavy. There's no obvious dirt or damage in the transfers, and no issues with digital artifacts. The whole production looks more like a feature film than a half-hour comedy show.
If the anamorphic widescreen visuals were a surprise, getting Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks on each episode is a massive shock. The thing is, there's no real need for the extra channels, as the show is dialogue-first, which some good score filling in the blank spots, with nothing noticeably dynamic about the mix. The side and rear speakers serve mainly to enhance the music, as there's not much else for them to do, but everything sounds just as good as it should.
The extras are mainly on the third DVD, with a pair of deleted scenes, running a bit more than two minutes, on their own on Disc Two. The deleted scenes are obviously quite short, and rather forgettable as well. The first substantial extras is the 16-plus minute featurette "Life in the Press Box," which is your basic making-of overview, featuring interviews with Thomas and much of the cast. Seeing and hearing from Thomas, it's obvious they did a great job of finding her stand-in in Spiro, and it's clear the cast enjoys doing the show. Up after that are a pair of sports-themed featurettes, over 11 minutes in all, which don't have much to do with the show. In "Sports Quiz," Thomas and the cast answer sports trivia questions to prove their knowledge of the show's key attribute, while "Favorites in Sports" ses the same participants, talking about their heroes and memories in sports. Way to think outside the box and try something a bit different.
The nearly nine minute "P.J.'s Rules for Sports and Dating," was disappointing, as it was just clips from the show, themed around the thoughts PJ shares while thinking aloud, though "No Crying in Baseball" brought things back with a seven minute montage of bloopers. What I could have done without was the two Minisode episodes, harshly edited versions of classic '80s sitcoms. Included here are "Me and Mr. T." from "Silver Spoons" and "Mr. T and mr. t" but as they were chopped down from about 25 minutes to just four, they are missing quite a bit.
The Bottom Line
"My Boys" is the rare comedic series that has a bit of something for everyone. Admittedly, because it's serving so many masters, it's not as funny as shows with a laser focus, but it's not a dud in any way. Thanks to a top-notch cast and a plot progression that puts the weight on individual stories, while letting season-long plots work their way out. It puts the show amongst some impressive company, like "The Office" and "My Name is Earl." The DVDs look and sound excellent, and the few extras are a nice addition to the package, serving up a mix of fluff and fun. Airing on TBS, the series' profile is certainly not a high one, but on DVD, the show should find some new fans before the second season starts, as it works well when watching at your own pace.
Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Check out 1106 - A Moment in Fictional Time or his convention blog called Conning Fellow
*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.