SO what about Joan? Joan Cusack, one of my favorite actresses has got a show of her own premiering tonight, called, appropriately enough "What About Joan."
But hey, you know that already, because the premier episode was advertised like crazy on the Academy Awards. Now don't pretend you didn't watch the Oscars, because it was unavoidable. Even if you live in Pakistan or outer space, you couldn't avoid the world's dullest awards show - and the ad for Cusack's show.
Her promo provided some of the only laughs in the most boring night in entertainment history - with the possible exception of say, an evening of song with Mandy Patinkin, Michael Bolton and Bjork. (Oh sorry, I forgot to gush at the mere mention of the swan-wearing warbler.)
Anyway, here's what good about "What About Joan:" The writing, when it forgets to be formulaic, and the ensemble company, when they manage to stay out of the cute-place-where-they-meet-to-discuss-everything a la "Seinfeld" and "Friends."
But the best thing about the show is the idea that there lives in TV land a single woman with a commitment problem for a change. She's the one who wishes her boyfriend would stop proposing to her, and she's shy about sex and modest in the extreme.
You'd think by watching most of the rest of TV that every woman is like my friend Cara-I-Want-To-Get-Married-Levine, who is in fact the only person I know this desperate.
What's not so great about the show is that Cusack, who plays a single high school teacher, is so neurotic that everything she says seems to carry with it the threat of sudden self-immolation.
Her best friends are very likeable, especially Donna Murphy as a shrink/friend, and Jessica Hecht as Betsy, another teacher who is having the world's most public secret affair with Mark (Wallace Langham). Mark thinks they shouldn't be together because they work in the same school.
I especially like Kyle Chandler as Joan's boyfriend Jake, although somebody this good would, in real life, turn out to be gay, married, a commitment-phobe, or a compulsive collector of something weird and terrifying making him totally wrong when he seemed so right.
The only character who doesn't work is student teacher Alice Adams (Shanygne Williams), the only African American on the show. She is written condescendingly as the all-knowing, all-wise, wise-ass. Why can't black characters get written like everyone else in a mostly-white ensemble company - sometimes dumb and stumbling, sometimes clever and sometimes human?
Cusack is a great comic actress - one of the few Americans who isn't afraid to make herself look foolish on camera. Although she makes fun of Lucy Ricardo in the show, Cusack is a modern day version of Lucy.
But, but, but, what made Lucy so great is that she wasn't neurotic - just unbalanced.
Joan needs to be less hysterical. It's as annoying as Cara-I-Want-To-Get-Married-Levine's* constant whining.
(*Name has been changed to protect my health and well being.)
"What About Joan"
Tonight at 9:30 on WABC/Ch. 2