Sorry to put the brakes on Fox's post-Super Bowl momentum, but the network's new relationship comedy Traffic Light is a no-"GO" for me. Or, as I tend to think of it after having watched four derivative episodes: "STOP" me if you've heard this before.
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Any resemblance to shows like NBC's infinitely worse Perfect Couples, ABC's contrived Better With You and CBS' banal Rules of Engagement is no coincidence. This is assembly line rom-com TV. The set-up here involves three college buds, now in their 30s and in various states of relationship angst. What do they really want? A little "me" time, which usually means whining to their pals over their car phones while driving. This show isn't just a nuisance, it's a public health hazard.
A recurring theme in Traffic Light is boundary issues. Married dad Mike (David Denman, aka Pam's first boyfriend on The Office and one of this show's best assets) hides in his car to shirk responsibility. Nebbishy Adam (Nelson Franklin), adjusting to cohabitation with his free-spirited but clingy girlfriend, tries to explain to her, "I didn't say that I have no freedom. I said that I don't have freedom." She even has the audacity to ruin his drive time by calling him with sweet nothings. The very idea! And because every show of this sort needs its swinging Barney type, there's the single cad Ethan (Kris Marshall), a British EMT who sweeps his bachelor pad after every hookup to erase traces of his conquests. "I want to break up with her stuff," he boasts.
I may already have broken up with Traffic Light, although the writing is sometimes more clever (perhaps too self-consciously so) than the norm, and Denman is an enjoyably sheepish foil to exasperated wife Liza Lapira. They're good enough company that I find myself wishing they'd pack up the car, TURN OFF THE PHONE and drive themselves into a better show.
More happily, and much more original, Raising Hope returns to the Tuesday lineup from a too-long hiatus to continue its uproarious freshman year, and it wastes no time aiming for the outrageous, ridiculous and sometimes appallingly funny. There's Cloris Leachman's deranged Maw Maw in a rare moment of sustained lucidity, temporarily smarter than the fools in her midst — and don't they know it, as they fight to claim "dibs" on her. And later, there's an inspired bit where poor single dad Jimmy (the endearing Lucas Neff) tries to leave a phone message for a treasured new friend, and realizes he can't "press 1" to re-record because their phone is rotary. "Why do we live in the '70s?" he laments as parents Martha Plimpton and Garret Dillahunt (both a scream) come to the inventive rescue.
The blue-collar dumb-hick humor is unabashedly broad (of the boxed-wine variety) and sometimes crosses over into the downright crude, but ultimately what saves Hope is the affection it generously bestows on its wacky characters. This week's main story presents an awkward culture clash between Jimmy's parents and the better-off family of Jimmy's new buddy, who's also a too-young single dad with an incredibly cute baby. "It's like they're Ken and Barbie, and we're the Potato Heads!" barks Plimpton's class-conscious Virginia. But by the end, there's a sense that for all they lack, at least the bad-luck Chances have each other. And that's enough — for them, and also for me.
Now here's something I bet you never expected to hear someone say in an episode of Glee: "Was it too much?"
The answer, in tonight's case, is undoubtedly "Yes" (as it tends to be even when the question isn't asked), but Glee's messy excesses are what often endear this show to its fans and apologists, even when an episode is as ragged and nonsensical as the post-Super Bowl mega-huh? Thankfully, Tuesday's Valentine-themed episode is a return to form, more satisfying in nearly every way. It's silly, schmaltzy, melodramatic and unafraid to go over the top at times — this is Glee, after all — but as the various couples and ex-couples and wannabe couples explore matters of the heart and in some cases re-couple or uncouple, there's a stronger focus than usual on character over attitude. I cheered when one of the gleeks declared her mini-clique to be "divas" one and all. "Sometimes you have to choose between love and talent [and] we all need to fly solo for a while."
There's also a very entertaining twist that reinforces Glee's celebrate-the-underdog motto, as a relatively new and typically unorthodox character is pursued ardently by a most unlikely suitor. These scenes, a little twisted and a lot funny, suit this episode's "Silly Love Songs" theme beautifully. I know it's trendy to pile on the Glee backlash, but in the spirit of Valentine's Day, I'll just say what the world needs now is a little more love for Glee when it's on its game as it is tonight.