Is it possible for one important decision to change an entire family dynamic? Can the children learn to adjust to such a big change? That's part of the premise behind the new Fox show "Surviving Jack," which had one family learning how to adjust to any parent running the household. Sure, the show's premise has been done before, but the cast and some of the stories made it worth watching again.
"Surviving Jack" followed one 1990s family as they adjusted to a major change in which parent ran the household. Joanne Dunlevy (Rachael Harris) was a devoted wife and mother for years, but she wanted to go back to finish law school to get her degree. She had the full support of her husband Jack (Christopher Meloni) who was a successful doctor and he decided to cut back on his hours at the hospital so that he could spend more time with their two children. Joanne warned her unconventional husband that parenting two teenagers wouldn't be as easy as he thought it would be. It turned out that she was right. Their daughter Rachel (Claudia Lee) had a new boyfriend in Doug (Thomas Kasp) that Jack didn't like in the slightest. It also didn't help that he caught Rachel with her top off in a compromising position with her boyfriend. Jack's son Frankie (Connor Buckley) was now a freshman in high school and was slowly discovering girls. Unfortunately, he didn't have much confidence in interacting with them. Frankie's crush was popular girl Heather (Lili Reinhart) who seemed to be interested in Frankie as well. Frankie's friends persuaded Frankie to help them steal a homeless person's dirty magazines to get an idea what a naked woman looked like, but he managed to get caught by his father. After Frankie had an embarassing experience at a high school party, Jack managed to help his son in a way that didn't actually terrify him for once. Will Jack be able to master the art of parenting or will he continue to get it wrong?
In terms of questions, the show managed to ask and answer two rather successfully. Is it possible to have a sitcom that can be both funny and serious at the same time? The answer to that question was a resounding yes, because the show managed to provide both humorous and touching moments that helped balance out some of the show's crazier antics. The cast seemed to have a very believable rapport in the series premiere that could make them almost pass as a real on-screen family, which was a much better fit than ABC's "The Goldbergs." Another plus was that this show actually was set in a different decade than the 1980s and followed the family as they dealt with their problems in the early 1990s. The premiere's strongest moments involved comedy and drama. One scene involved Meloni's Jack teaching his son how to drive with a crazy scenario of driving a mortally wounded friend to the hospital, better known as their house. Frankie had to get the car into their driveway in a matter of minutes, which involved with breaking every speed limit possible to do so. Buckley provided Frankie with a convincing look of terror, even though the scenario wasn't real. He seemed truly terrified of his on-screen father that made it interesting to see what their off-screen rapport would be like. The other scene involved Meloni's Jack giving his son an important pep talk without getting too sentimental. He basically told his son that he may have messed up his first kiss, but there will be more opportunities to learn from his mistakes before he found the one. The premiere's other question involved whether the show had the ability to make it to another season, but the early answer so far was yes based on the overall quality of the performances in the premiere. Fingers crossed that future episodes will continue to build more momentum.
As for breakout performances, Meloni and Buckley led the pack as a father and son learning how to get to know each other better. The premiere's biggest surprise was Meloni's Jack because he was best known for his dramatic roles where he often played the anti-hero. It was nice to see him flex his comedic muscles by poking holes in his usual tough guy persona. He designed to be a mixture of strength and tenderness when the situation called for it, such as his post-party pep talk with Frankie. Meloni also had a believable on-screen rapport with Harris' Joanne that was playful as they tried to one up each other on camera, which allowed the scene where Joanne ruined the ending of Jack's new book out of spite. He have been a little mad but the character loved her anyway. Hopefully, Meloni and Harris will continue to have scenes like that to allow both on-screen parents to have equal time on the screen. Buckley, on the other hand, had the challenging task of making Frankie's coming of age story a little more unique than most Hollywood stories about teenagers. He designed Frankie to be a character who lacked the confidence to date girls and even stand up to his very tough father. Buckley made Frankie both funny and realistic as his character endured some very cringeworthy moments, such as finding a box of condoms from his father in his backpack in the middle of the school cafeteria. He also made Frankie someone who was more than a sex crazed on-screen teenager, but let's hope there is at least one more misadventure coming his way sooner or later to keep things interesting whenever necessary.
"Surviving Jack" premiered on March 27th and airs Thursdays at 9:30 PM on Fox.
Verdict: Meloni's Jack managed to ground the show's over the top antics and provided some of the premiere's strongest moments that were both funny and serious. Let's hope that the rest of the show will catch up to his performance very soon.
TV Score: 3 out of 5 stars
1 Star (Mediocre)
2 Stars (Averagely Entertaining)
3 Stars (Decent Enough to Pass Muster)
4 Stars (Near Perfect)
5 Stars (Gold Standard)