Julia Louis-Dreyfus's terrific sitcom The New Adventures of Old Christine was canceled earlier this year after five rocky seasons. Creator Kari Lizer went on record saying CBS never got behind the series, that the network wasn't interested in backing a show about a (demographically undesirable) single mother in her mid-40s, Louis-Dreyfus's longstanding popularity notwithstanding. She may have a point.
The series' haphazard road to home video would also seem to support this. The show's first two seasons came out on DVD in January and June 2008, but then the well ran dry. Now more than two years later comes Season Three but it's with a couple of catches: 1) It's available for purchase only online, via WBshop.com, and the two-disc set consists of inferior DVD-Rs, as with the label's Warner Archive titles; 2) The New Adventures of Old Christine was renewed only as a mid-season replacement its third year, and even that was cut short by a WGA (Writers Guild of America) strike that further reduced the number of episodes that season from 13 to a mere 10. Just as the season really gets going it's suddenly over.
Despite the dearth of episodes in this set what's there is some of the best situation comedy writing and performing of the last several years. There are no extras but otherwise, at least to the naked eye, the presentation is imperceptible from the previous season set DVDs.
A "three-camera" series filmed before a live audience, a la Louis-Dreyfus's earlier hit Seinfeld, The New Adventures of Old Christine is about a self-absorbed, heavy-drinking, neurotic single-mother, Christine Campbell, who lives with her elementary school-age son Ritchie (Trevor Gagnon) and Christine's younger brother, Matthew (Hamish Linklater), a recently failed medical student who has to put up with Christine's neurotic behavior.
Christine maintains a close relationship with her ex-husband (and Ritchie's father), Richard (Clark Gregg), a good-natured if irresponsible stereotypical man, currently in a relationship with "New" Christine (Emily Rutherfurd) - a woman younger, more conventionally attractive, and generally more together than "Old" Christine, hence their respective nicknames.
Other regular characters include Barb (Wanda Sykes), "Old" Christine's acerbic best friend and co-worker at Christine's gym for women; and Marly (Alex Kapp Horner) and Lindsay (Tricia O'Kelley), a pair of hopelessly vain and snobby mothers at Ritchie's exclusive private school in the heart of Beverly Hills.
It took this reviewer a while to warm up to the series (see my review of Season Two here). It tries too hard with the machine-gun fire jokes that sometimes get in the way of real characterization but, admittedly, much of this humor is pretty funny.
The real appeal of Christine is its frankness and how accurately it depicts the strange obsessions of middle-aged single parents as they try to cope with their insecurities as they re-enter the dating scene - while at the same time working hard not to cut corners with their children.
Louis-Dreyfus's character is a real original, so self-obsessed that she's deaf to the real concerns of everyone else around her. It was daring of Lizer to create such a potentially unlikable, selfish woman. She's attractive and vivacious but with cripplingly low self-esteem and self-destructive in her relationships with men. She's easily discouraged, gets upset over trivial matters, and drinks too much. She's a doting mother but insecure and frequently feels guilty about her shortcomings as a parent.
Christine and Richard devote a great deal of time supporting their son's education, sports and after-school activities, and the show is funny and realistic in showing how this tends to become all-consuming, as well as the constant struggle between supporting one's children and juggling some semblance of a normal life.
The series has been especially interesting in that during its run Christine phases in and out of various relationships, much like real life. Some men are out of the running after a date or two, while others last for months. As season three begins, Christine is in a burgeoning relationship with Ritchie's former teacher, the highly-coveted Mr. Harris (Blair Underwood), but Christine's schedule gets in the way and (mild spoilers) their relationship grinds to a halt in a disarmingly, emotionally authentic episode.
At a time when Americans generally have become painfully prudish (while, conversely, Hollywood movies now favor the crude and vulgar over genuine wit), it's refreshing to watch a series so frank and funny about human sexuality in all its messy glory: body hair, body odor, sexual positions, condoms, birth control pills and the like become topics of frequently hilarious discussion among the principals.
As might be expected, Louis-Dreyfus is terrific throughout; an incredible range of complex anxieties passes across her face in every episode. Indeed, the entire cast is exceptional, with unilaterally superb comic timing by all. The show's writing is almost unique in terms of pacing; like Billy Wilder's or Preston Sturges's it has its own unique patter that everyone sells uniformly well.
Video & Audio
As noted above, The New Adventures of Old Christine - The Complete Third Season presents 10 episodes on two DVD-Rs, five episodes per disc, in 16:9 enhanced widescreen format. The episodes look just fine and this reviewer experienced no problems playing the discs, despite their inferior encoding. The Dolby Digital Surround tracks are on par with 2008 network television standards; there are no other language or subtitle options, and no Extra Features.
It's too bad interested parties will have to work a little harder to get a little less for their money, because The New Adventures of Old Christine is a funny, knowing comedy about life after 40 and parenting that deserved more studio and network support than it apparently received. Highly Recommended.
Stuart Galbraith IV's latest audio commentary, for AnimEigo's Musashi Miyamoto DVD boxed set, is on sale now.