I've barely adjusted to The Goldbergs mining the 1980s for comic nostalgia — seems not that long ago that Geraldo Rivera opened Al Capone's empty vault, and that's a subplot in an early April episode — and now comes Fox's Surviving Jack (Thursday, 9:30/8:30c), a coming-of-age family sitcom set in the not-so-distant past of the 1990s. (Can't wait for the arc about Y2K anxiety.)
The real draw of the show is not so much the gangly freshman Frankie (Connor Buckley), whose adolescent fixation on boobs could come from just about any era, but his father Jack, his gruff bully of a dad played by Christopher Meloni. His tough-guy persona, honed by years on SVU, is well suited for the role of a successful oncologist (cue awkward cancer jokes) and ex-military taskmaster forced to practice an aggressive form of tough love on his kids when his wife (the ever-welcome Rachael Harris) starts law school. Jack's "surrounded by idiots" misanthropy and drill-sergeant parenting threatens to wear thin, but Meloni sells it with an underlying intelligence and empathetic warmth. And if the period references (including an obsession with American Gladiators) often feel shoehorned in to remind us that this is someone's memoir — the someone being Justin Halpern, of $#*! My Dad Says infamy — the humiliations of high-school life are fairly timeless, if carrying with them a certain been-there, survived-that quality.
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THE THURSDAY GUIDE: In what sounds like a particularly playful installment of Bravo's too-rarely-seen Inside the Actors Studio (8/7c), the cast of CBS's soon-to-depart How I Met Your Mother reflect on their nine-year run, the actors sometimes speaking as their character, which after this long is understandable. "The whole point of the show is about love and the search for love," says Josh Radnor, whose character of Ted certainly took his sweet time finding it. ... As the clock ticks on Sandra Oh's remaining time on ABC's Grey's Anatomy (9/8c), Cristina has a Sliding Doors moment as she imagines two versions of her future, based on a fateful decision. ... And you'd think after what just happened to the late James Novak (Dan Bucatinsky) on ABC's Scandal, Olivia might want to heed her father's advice this week (10/9c) when he warns her to stop looking into B613's dirty doings. But will she? Doubtful. And while this is clearly no place for children, the first family welcomes the seldom-seen Grant kids back to the White House to participate in a live TV interview. What are the odds that goes well?