I've written about a number of Hollywood's revivals already this year — the Deadwood movie, Veronica Mars Season 4, El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie — and every time I approach a new revival I pose the same question: Why does this project exist? Sometimes the answer is clear — it provides closure where there previously wasn't any — and sometimes there's no reason beyond the fact the world is a trash fire and we need nice things every once in a while in order to stay sane. But sadly, as far as I can tell, there is no reason at all for the limited revival of the NBC sitcom Mad About You to exist.
The revival — which debuts Wednesday, Nov. 20 on Spectrum's on-demand platform and follows Paul (Paul Reiser) and Jamie Buchman (Helen Hunt) as empty nesters now that their only child, Mabel (Abby Quinn), has moved five blocks away to attend NYU — is not actually about anything. Now, you can easily argue the original series, which ran for seven seasons from 1992 to 1999 on NBC, wasn't about anything either; it followed Paul and Jamie as newlyweds in New York City and once memorably featured an episode devoted to the couple being locked in their oversized bathroom, while another featured a shirt — it was taupe, not tan or beige or camel — that was supposedly cursed.
But at the time, Mad About You didn't need to be deeper than that. The best and most popular sitcoms of the '90s, of which Mad About You was one — while it didn't have the overwhelming presence of Friends or the lasting pop culture significance of Seinfeld, Mad About You was nominated for 34 Emmys during its seven-year run, winning 12 — were similarly about nothing. They featured friends and couples and families hanging out and experiencing life's universal moments together. Those types of comedies do obviously still exist, but television has evolved in the two decades since the show went off the air — the multi-camera format doesn't necessarily connect with audiences the way it used to, for instance — and there is too much good-to-great TV piling up on DVRs to bother with a show that ultimately has nothing new to add to the conversation.
Mad About You is essentially the same show now as it was when it existed in the 1990s, only now Paul and Jamie are older, a fact the show attempts to address in meta fashion in its opening scene. I have no doubt this won't matter to some fans who are only seeking to light up the part of the brain that reacts to nostalgia — and I admit a shot of warmth went through me when I first heard the show's familiar theme song, reimagined for the revival — but for TV viewers who want more, this revival sadly doesn't deliver.
The first two episodes deal with Paul and Jamie adjusting to having an empty nest, but they fail to say anything meaningful about this familiar aspect of parenting and aging. In the premiere, Jamie initially appears to be fine while Paul has written a long, emotional poem for Mabel, but later on it's Jamie who breaks down because Mabel didn't make her bed before she left. In Episode 2, Mabel makes Jamie sign a contract in order to put some distance between them, but then she spends the entire episode texting Paul, asking him for advice about how to survive her new roommate — and Paul naturally ends up going to Jamie for help.
The revival's biggest offense is simply feeling like a relic of a different time. And it doesn't help matters that it appears to be recycling plot points from the original series; the pilot featured a storyline about how Paul and Jamie weren't having sex five months after their marriage because they were too busy, and the third episode of the revival reveals they're not having sex because Jamie is going through menopause and lacks a sexual appetite. Like so much else about the show, the episode goes for the lowest and most obvious jokes without elevating them or providing any insightful commentary.
What's particularly sad is that the only story with any emotional resonance, at least in the five episodes screened for critics, is one that involves Jamie attempting to fill the void in her life with a new puppy, and it resonates not because it is a moving story — it's actually pretty predictable and one we've seen before — but because the show is addressing that it is missing a vital part of its past: Murray, one of the best and most beloved on-screen pets in TV history.
Again, there are almost certainly Mad About You fans who won't be bothered by the lack of movement, the laugh track, or the dated feeling that permeates everything despite the fact the Buchmans' kitchen has been beautifully remodeled. They'll say the show doesn't need to be anything more than what it was previously, and part of me admires them for having such an easygoing attitude about the show and revivals in general. But if the point of life is to grow and evolve, it's unfortunate there has been so little growth in Paul and Jamie's lives.
Still, I can say the revival at least inspired me to go back and watch a number of episodes from the show's original run — every episode is available on-demand for Spectrum and Starz subscribers — and it was enough to remind me why I loved the show the way I did in the 1990s, and that's all the Mad About You I need.
TV Guide Rating: 2.5/5
The first six episodes of Mad About You's revival premiere Wednesday, Nov. 20 on Spectrum's On-Demand platform. The final six episodes will be released on Wednesday, Dec. 18.