The Lifetime network - which has been known for melodramatic "Movies of the Week" - has been working to make a new name for itself with series such a "Drop Dead Diva", "Army Wives" and snagging the popular series "Project Runway". Another addition to the network was the short-lived sitcom (yes, a sitcom on Lifetime) "Rita Rocks", starring MADtv alumni, Nicole Sullivan as Rita.
Rita Clemens is married with two girls, teenager Hallie (Natalie Dreyfuss) and the youngest Shannon (Kelly Gould). She spends her days organizing her life around their needs and her husband Jay's (Richard Ruccolo, "Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place"), only to wake up in the middle of the night with the sensation that something is missing. As she looks through pictures from her past, she remembers how fun and freeing it was performing in a cover band when she was younger. Rita realizes that she needs to take time for herself and she starts by getting out her guitar.
"Rita Rocks" centers around Rita and her newfound desire to get more from her life with music. As quickly as she gets out her guitar, a garage band begins to form. The first member is her postal carrier, Patty (Tisha Campbell-Martin, "My Wife and Kids"), who befriends Rita after catching her in the garage with her guitar. Some of the best moments of the series are when Campbell-Martin and Sullivan interact. Patty nicely balances Rita's frazzled nature and adds a lot of humor to the series. The next member is Rita's neighbor, Owen (Ian Gomez, "Felicity"). The final addition to the band is the most inspired. Hallie's boyfriend, Kip (Raviv Ullman) who practically lives at the Clemens residence joins the band. The combination of characters brings a nice balance to the scenes.
What makes "Rita Rocks" refreshing is the idea that Rita doesn't just dream about making some changes, she actually does so by starting the garage band. There are instances where the band creates problems for her everyday life, but that only adds to the series as we watch Rita try to make it work. In "Flirting with Disaster" Jay is jealous when Rita and Patty are invited to a performance by two male musicians. In "Lies, Lies, Lies, Yeah-ah", Rita lies to Shannon about missing her karate lesson to practice with the band. Thankfully, the band also enhances Rita's life and the life of her loved one's. A memorable episode focusing on Rita's music is "I Write the Songs" where Rita decides to write her own song called "Somebody to Worry About."
While "Rita Rocks" focuses on Rita's band life and her family life, it does feel at times that the family life gets a bit more play. Usual sitcom situations arises throughout the series as Rita works to bring balance to her life. In "Nobody Does it Better" Jay cooks a meal that everyone loves, which only leaves Rita feeling bad. In "The Girl is Mine," Patty helps out around the house when Rita is sick, and Shannon ends up really taking to her.
"Rita Rocks" is your usual family sitcom with a fairly straightforward cast of characters. While the writing isn't very original, it occasionally connects surprisingly well and gets a solid laugh. Nicole Sullivan, who was successful on "Scrubs" and "Mad TV", does a reasonably good job filling out what could easily be a a one-dimensional character. The rest of the cast is also fantastic. Ruccolo is great as Jay and Gomez is a perfect choice as Owen. Gould and Dreyfuss offer enjoyable performances as the daughters, and Campbell-Martin is a highlight throughout the series.
While the series only aired for two seasons, it is clear that Lifetime is making an effort to broaden their audience and their content. With a great cast and a decent idea about a mother who just wants to find that spark again, "Rita Rocks" definitely doesn't reinvent the wheel, but it's reasonably good light entertainment.
Season 1 Episodes
1-01 20/Oct/08 Pilot
1-02 21/Oct/08 Lies, Lies, Lies, Yeah-Ah
1-03 22/Oct/08 You Gotta Have Friends
1-04 23/Oct/08 Flirting with Disaster
1-05 24/Oct/08 Mother's Little Helper
1-06 28/Oct/08 Nobody Does it Better
1-07 11/Nov/08 Take This Job and Shove It
1-08 18/Nov/08 The Crying Game
1-09 25/Nov/08 Under Pressure
1-10 02/Dec/08 Got No Time
1-11 09/Dec/08 Love on the Rocks
1-12 16/Dec/08 I Write the Songs
1-13 05/Jan/09 The Girl Is Mine
1-14 12/Jan/09 Old Friends
1-15 19/Jan/09 It's My Party
1-16 26/Jan/09 I Can't Make You Love Me
1-17 02/Feb/09 Get Off Of My Cloud
1-18 09/Feb/09 Killer Queen
1-19 16/Feb/09 What's Love Got To Do With It
1-20 23/Feb/09 We Can Work It Out
VIDEO: The series is presented by New Video in 1.33:1 full-frame. Image quality remained quite nice throughout the series, with crisp detail and warm, well-saturated colors. Some minor shimmer and a couple of traces of pixelation didn't cause too much distraction from what was otherwise a fine transfer.
SOUND: Crisp, clear stereo soundtrack.
EXTRAS: A music video for the song "Somebody to Worry About" (music and lyrics by Kathleen Wilhoite) from the episode "I Write the Songs" is featured here. The video is footage of Nicole Sullivan, Tisha Campbell-Martin, Raviv Ullman and Ian Gomez recording the song along with clips from the series. This is a great addition to the DVD and the song is not only catchy, but also a lovely sentiment that sums up the show nicely.
Final Thoughts:Though it only aired two seasons, "Rita Rocks" had a decent idea about a mother who just wants to find that spark again. The writing isn't out of the ordinary, but Sullivan is surrounded by a fine cast who tries to make it work. A worthwhile rental.