"Julia, sometimes on the 30 Rock set when I don't quite know how to play a scene, my husband will remind me, 'Just try to act like
Julia Louis-Dreyfus.' So thank you, Julia.
That is really working out for me."
- Tina Fey, accepting her Best Actress Emmy
Julia Louis-Dreyfus is a comedic force of nature, an artist so in tune with every funny fiber in her arsenal. A master of humor both physical and verbal, she commands her face, voice, brain and body in countless ways both subtle and exaggerated, eliciting hearty laughs with the slight tilt of an eyebrow, a minor inflection of a single word or a sharply delivered, well-placed zinger.
Her sense of timing and her lack of fear--she enthusiastically tackles embarrassing herself, shoving her ass in the air or contorting her face into the most unflattering expression--make her one of the most unique and gifted comedic actors of her generation. She's a modern day Mary Tyler Moore who isn't afraid to take the material a step further--one-upping her idol and staying undeniably sexy through even the most unbecoming predicaments. Louis-Dreyfus is one of the girls and one of the guys, a beautiful and bawdy object of affection, admiration and desire for virtually every demographic.
In case you haven't figured it out, I think she's a goddess. From her early days at Saturday Night Live to her iconic role on Seinfeld--hell, even on the under-appreciated Watching Ellie--I've been a super-fan, gleefully devouring every ounce of her fabulousness. She single-handedly makes The New Adventures of Old Christine required viewing, lifting what would be an otherwise average series to a must-see magnitude. Yes, she's that good.
Her newest venture debuted to solid ratings and reviews as a mid-season replacement in the winter of 2006, followed by a full-season pickup. So far, Season 2 of Old Christine remains the most complete of them all (Season 3 was a half order further shortened by the writer's strike; here's hoping Season 4 continues without interference). Christine Campbell is a loving single mom trying to make it and set the right example for son Ritchie (Trevor Gagnon); she's also the sister to mellow Matthew (Hamish Linklater), a sensitive slacker who you'll swear is a pothead (he insists he isn't).
Christine is still close to ex-husband Richard (Clark Gregg), her partner in co-dependency--and a contractor now dating the slightly ditzy yet well-intentioned "new" Christine (Emily Rutherfurd). Also along for the ride is best friend Barb (Wandy Sykes), who this season becomes a co-partner in the women's gym run by Christine. The new arrangement is one of many that shatters Christine's supposedly caring persona:
Christine: "This is a gym for women only. That's why there's a sign out front that says, 'For Women Only'."
Barb: "Yeah, and if that doesn't keep the men away, she puts the fatties in the machines by the window."
Christine: "Okay...Barb: First of all, they're people, okay? And second of all, we refer to them as 'befores'."
The show follows Christine's pursuit to be a good mom and a good person, which can be a challenge given her sometimes selfish nature. She's environmentally aware and champions plenty of causes ("I set a fine example for Ritchie: I drive a Prius, I burn soy candles, I've got a black friend...what more could I possibly do?!"). But her do-good ways are frequently interrupted by her relationship with wine, food, bargain shopping, reality TV and sex, an activity she knows all too well given her healthy dating habits:
Christine: "What happened to me, Matthew?! I used to be so politically active. I used to have a social conscience. I used to care about things that were bigger than American Idol."
Matthew: "Like when you cared about Amazing Race?"
Christine: "Before that."
Matthew: "When you cared about Survivor?"
Christine: "Before that! You know, I used to care about the world around me. I was involved, you know? Don't you remember? In college I was so active."
Matthew: "Oh, you were very active...I remember three pregnancy scares and a lot of antibiotics."
Christine, pausing in reflection: "...I love college."
Christine also tries to fit in at Ritchie's expensive private school, where she often feels pitied by her snobby, rich peers, led by the "Meanie Moms": alpha female Marly (Tricia O'Kelley) and follower Lindsay (Alex Kapp Horner), the show's sparingly used secret weapons of hysteria ("You know," observes Marly, "sometimes I wish I was the funny one and you were the pretty one").
While the show doesn't rely much on large story arcs, a few multi-episode themes include Christine's infatuation with Ritchie's new teacher, Mr. Harris (Blair Underwood); Richard's wooing of new Christine, who left him at the end of Season 1; Matthew's continued search for a vocation; and Barb's burgeoning business sense (and hormones). There's also plenty of dates, providing nervous Christine with ample opportunity for regret: Season 2 pairs Louis-Dreyfus with Richard Dean Anderson, Andy Richter, Dave Foley and Matt Letscher (who returns as Burton in a great episode).
When Christine isn't on screen, the supporting cast and stories don't have quite the same snap, although everyone here is given moments to shine. Linklater is the strongest at breathing life and personality into his character, giving long-suffering Matthew a perpetual frown of frustration (he's the Lisa Simpson of the group). Try as he might, Matthew (equally unlucky in love) just can't get Christine to focus on him for even five seconds, and Linklater has mastered the gaze of defeat--most effective when Matthew is forced to hear the details of his sister's libido. Of all the cast, he spars the best with Louis-Dreyfus:
Christine: "You get the peach caramel, and we'll give each other bites."
Matthew: "No, I'm not doing that...you take giant bites."
Christine: "I can't help it! I have a large mandible. I had six wisdom teeth!"
Matthew: "That's ironic."
Christine: "I know, right?"
He gets some of my favorite lines of the season: "Science has made great strides since the fictional 1970s" and his drugstore revelation "Hey look...a douche bag is a real thing!" stand out. Matthew wears a constant look of defeat (of Richard's handsome bachelor brother: "That guy goes through women like I go through...less attractive women"), and is apparently invisible to his sister:
Matthew: "I probably should have told you earlier, but my therapist has me on some pretty serious drugs. It's a potent cocktail of anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medication."
Christine: "What do they do?"
Matthew: "Apparently they make you tolerable."
Sykes essentially plays herself, which is still pretty funny. She gets a few lines that feel like stand-up bits ("You know who I hate? Magicians. Here's a trick: Lose the cape and move out of your parents' garage!"), but her sour demeanor and expressions come in handy, especially as a foil to excitable Christine. Rutherford doesn't have much to do other than be flighty and quirky, but she manages to hit a quiet homerun when you least expect it ("Wow, that's worse than a dry spell. Turning men gay...that's like a super power!"). Gregg is the weakest link in the cast; he has charm and gets a few good jabs in, but to me he always appears too relaxed and aware of himself, like he isn't even trying to act (I always felt the same way about Laura Prepon in That '70s Show; she just couldn't maintain that fourth wall on her face).
Outside of Louis-Dreyfus, the show is frequently stolen by the Meanie Moms, played to perfection by O'Kelley and Horner (who Seinfeld fans may remember as the woman who refused to break up with George and spoke to her apple). They're a well-oiled machine of back-handed compliments, insensitive observations and vapid viciousness. As rich, materialistic stay-at-home moms with noting better to do than spend money and mock others, they make Christine's life hell--often sneaking up behind her with the stealth of seasoned predators. I frequently wish they appeared more often, but that would probably dilute their evilicious effect. No one makes better use of limited screen time than these two, a dynamic duo that has honed that piercing glare of disdain. (Rachel Harris--another comedic genius--also appears in one episode; someone please give her a series to showcase her amazing talent!)
But let's not kid ourselves...this show is all about Louis-Dreyfus. Christine is adorably relatable, a funny yet flawed woman with so many layers--and the actress becomes the character, throwing herself into every expression, every pratfall and every line (my favorite--"I had a funky submarine sandwich for lunch"--is placed perfectly). Whether Christine is cracking herself up, putting her foot in her mouth, squirming her way out of an uncomfortable situation, faking a smile, getting her facts wrong, talking too much when she's nervous, blinded by compliments, distracted by something shiny or awkwardly flirting with another potential notch in her bedpost, Louis-Dreyfus is gold. She can convincingly shift emotions at will (just watch how the movie Men Don't Leave effects her), and no one--I mean no one--is in better control of their voice and face. Louis-Dreyfus understands every nuance at her disposal to deliver the goods, either softly or with a loud, giant schtick:
Matthew: "You're gonna tell Stan that you have no interest in a relationship with him!"
Christine: "While I'm sleeping with him?!"
Matthew: "No! No more sleeping with him!"
Christine: "Oh...but Matthew, you don't understand! My brain says 'no' but my pants say 'off'!"
I suppose the show may seem slightly risqué depending on how easily offended you are. Louis-Dreyfus has long admitted to having a commode mouth and dirty mind, and you can just see her itching beneath the surface--I would give anything to see her unleashed on a pay cable series. Here, she and the writers work beautifully together as they carefully mine blue material, unafraid to tackle a single woman's healthy sex life ("What do I know about ethics? On prom night I let Alan Rice plow me like an Iowa cornfield"). It's a credit to Louis-Dreyfus that she doesn't need an explicit punch-line to make a suggestive line soar:
Christine: "You know, women like sex, too. It's just that if we don't have it for a week, we don't feel the need to pounce on the first thing that comes along. We channel it, in productive ways."
Christine: "...we drink...or sleep...or eat. God, I am starving!"
Highlights of the season include an episode where Christine gets scared by Ritchie's interest in church (a storyline balanced with her hysterical search for a sandwich); Christine's insensitivity in dealing with Richard's closeted brother; a fender bender with the Meanie Moms; a pancake supper at Ritchie's school; a party with Matthew (coupled with an odd seafood obsession); a birthday party for Richard; a hysterical reaction to sleeping pills meant to cure mood swings; and one of my favorite episodes, where Christine promises to stay sober at a wedding reception.
I could go on and mention more highlights, but just read the episode guide. Yes, Louis-Dreyfus really is that funny. She deserved her Emmy win for Season 1, and many more awards and seasons should be in her future. Hopefully, Louis-Dreyfus can be as persuasive with the network as Christine is with her teachers:
"I can be very persuasive...once I convinced my gym teacher that I had my period every day for an entire semester."
The 22 episodes (about 22 minutes each) are spread across four discs:
1. The Passion of the Christine (aired 9-18-2006) When Richard's frequent presence at Christine's house confuses Ritchie into to thinking they've reconciled, Richard wonders if they should.
2. The Answer is Maybe (aired 9-25-2006) Following her learning that Richard's willingness to embrace life is responsible for his success with women, Christine goes against form and accepts a date from a handsome stranger.
3. Come to Papa Jeff (aired 10-2-2006) Christine is stunned to find out the man she's seeing is also a grandfather.
4. Oh God, Yes (aired 10-9-2006) Ritchie goes to church with Richard and new Christine without consulting his mother first, leaving old Christine to explain and explore her aversion to organized religion.
5. Separation Anxiety (aired 10-16-2006) Barb moves in with Christine after deciding to divorce her husband. This forces Matthew into Ritchie's room, where he discovers his nephew has some odd habits.
6. The Champ (aired 10-23-2006) When she's again faced with 'Sad Dad' Stan, Christine once again finds it impossible to resist him and finally reveals why to Richard. Meanwhile, Matthew is stuck with a date who just won't leave.
7. Playdate with Destiny (aired 11-6-2006) When Richie wins a playdate with Christine's latest crush--his teacher, Mr. Harris--a pre-planned trip with Richard forces Christine to confront her crush head-on.
8. Women 'N Tuition (aired 11-13-2006) Christine makes sacrifices so she can pay for Ritchie's school tuition, and enters into an arrangement with Barb that will help. Matthew decides he needs to make more of himself.
9. Mission: Impossible (aired 11-20-2006) After Richie begins showing more interest in spending time with Richard and then does a bad job on his school homework project, Christine contemplates bailing Richie out in an attempt to win him over again.
10. What About Barb? (aired 11-27-2006) Christine has difficulty adjusting to Barb now being her business partner. With his schooling soon to interfere, Matthew helps find a new nanny for Ritchie.
11. Crash (aired 12-11-2006) Christine's Prius and Marly's SUV back into each other. While she's upset at Marly's continued superior attitude over the situation, she's more upset at there only being an SUV available at the rental agency.
12. Ritchie Scores (aired 1-8-2007) Richard wants Ritchie to learn the value of competition and male bonding, and signs him up for soccer. Christine disagrees, but then has her own competitive urges when fighting with Richard for attention from Mr. Harris.
13. Endless Shrimp, Endless Night (aired 1-15-2007) Christine can't help but meddle in Matthew's love life when she meets his ex-girlfriend at a party. Meanwhile, Richard hopes to get Ritchie enthused about his contracting job.
14. Let Him Eat Cake (aired 1-22-2007) Jealous that New Christine benefits from all the positive qualities she instilled in Richard during their marriage, Christine spites her by revealing to Richard that she gave New Christine the idea for the birthday gift she gave him.
15. Sleepless in Mar Vista (aired 3-12-2007) Christine finds out her new sleep medication caused her to embarrass herself over the phone.
16. Undercover Brother (aired 3-12-2007) Christine finds out Richard's brother is gay, but not until after kissing him.
17. Strange Bedfellows (aired 3-19-2007) Christine vows to become more aware of politics when Richard scolds her about her indifference towards an upcoming election setting a bad example for Ritchie.
18. The Real Thing (aired 4-9-2007) Trying to send an e-mail to Barb about Mr. Harris, Christine ends up sending it to all the parents from school, nearly costing him his job.
19. Faith Off (aired 4-16-2007) Christine can't resist meddling when Lindsay hires Richard to remodel her bathroom, while Matthew enjoys his first trip to Home Depot. Meanwhile, Christine and Richard debate on who should give Ritchie the 'birds and the bees' talk.
20. My Big Fat Sober Wedding (aired 4-23-2007) The stresses of going to a wedding with Richard and Barb are multiplied by Christine's agreeing to be designated driver, depriving her of some much-needed alcohol.
21. Friends (aired 4-30-2007) On their way to Ritchie's desert camping trip, Christine, Richard, Matthew, and Barb stay at a seedy motel and get on each others' nerves.
22. Frasier (aired 5-7-2007) Christine realizes that one reckless evening may have jeopardized her chance to begin dating Mr. Harris.
Presented in an anamorphic 1.78:1 transfer, the show looks fantastic. Lines are sharp, and colors and rich and vibrant.
Equally solid is the 5.1 surround track. While there isn't much use of the full sound spectrum, it's still a crystal clear performance. A Portuguese option is available, as are subtitles in English, French, Spanish, Chinese and Portuguese.
I'm disappointed there's no behind-the-scenes feature or any audio commentaries with Louis-Dreyfus, but we still get a few modest yet entertaining extras. Unaired Laundry is a collection of deleted scenes. They're presented as a group at the end of each disc. Disc 1 has four scenes (about 3 minutes worth) from episodes 4, 5 and 6; Disc 2 has one scene (:51) from episode 11; Disc 3 has four scenes (about 5 minutes) from episodes 15, 16 and 18; and Disc 4 has three scenes (about 2 minutes) from episode 20. They're worth a look, and provide a few cute moments.
Even better is the "Adventures in Blunders" gag reel (8:51), presented in lower video quality; it has a few hysterical moments (watch Louis-Dreyfus try to keep a straight face as she tries out some variations on her "What do I know about ethics..." line). I'm sure there's even more material they could have included.
I could die laughing just watching Julia Louis-Dreyfus blow her nose. So you can imagine how thrilled I am to see her given a character that utilizes all of her unparalleled comedic gifts, allowing her to show off every whimsical weapon at her disposal. She's a rare breed, an actor perfectly in tune with her brain, body and voice--and she uses all of those to breathe life and laughter into the beautifully flawed Christine Campbell. The series and the rest of the cast wouldn't be much without her, but this is a one-woman show that comes Highly Recommended.