Written by Evan Braun
Unfortunately, one of the best things you could say about the first season of ’Til Death is that it’s consistently inconsistent. It’s sometimes boring, it’s sometimes sentimental. Occasionally it’s angry. From time to time, it’s even funny. That said, I have a hard time believing the back cover’s assertion that this sitcom is a “top rated comedy.”
Here’s the premise, which is hardly new to television. Eddie and Joy Stark (Brad Garrett and Joely Fisher) have been married 24 years and have settled into a period of their lives that could charitably be described as stable, but more honestly as a rut. They love each other, but they take each other for granted. The magic is gone. Unfortunately, there’s no chemistry, either.
In the pilot episode, the house next door is purchased by a newly married couple of just 12 days, Jeff and Steph Woodcock (Eddie Kay Thomas and Kat Foster). These youngsters are bubbling over with constant romance and public affection, both infuriating the Starks and reminding them of what they once shared together.
I feel sorry for Joely Fisher, who I think is one of the funniest and cleverest actresses around. Her brief turn as Nina Fletcher, Lynette’s irritable and demanding boss on Desperate Housewives, was an absolute riot. The moment I saw that she was associated with this new show, I was encouraged. Too bad she doesn’t get a chance to shine; Brad Garrett’s stumbling oafishness is unfunny enough for both of them. Eddie Kaye Thomas’s naivety is no laugh-enducer, either. The result is a show filled with overwhelming awkwardness, and in the good way that shows like The Office exude. No, there’s nothing good about it.
This boxset is a first for me on at least one front: it’s presented in widescreen! Remember, this is a sitcom, which means that there’s not much to be appreciated cinematically. While it’s nice to look at, I can’t help but wonder why the producers of this show went to the trouble (maybe to distract the viewer from the fact that the show’s unfunniness). In any event, the video transfer is breathtaking. Mastered in HD, the colours are crisp and clear, the sets shine, the outdoor scenes practically glow – it’s truly glorious, one of the best video presentations I’ve seen in a long time.
Sadly, all gains made by the stunning video quality is lost by this embarrassing audio track. Somebody must have goofed. The volume rises and falls constantly throughout each and every episode, from uncomfortably high to so low that you have to strain to hear what’s being said. The effect is so distracting that it’s hard to pay attention to the storylines going on. This has to be have been a manufacturing mistake, as I’ve never encountered anything like it before.
I should also address the musical soundtrack, which is so frustrating I almost wanted to cover my ears between scene transitions. Whoever thought mediocre scatting would be hip and cool was grossly mistaken.
One more thing: the laugh track was unusually off-putting. Perhaps it should have instead been a groan track. Much more appropriate.
The second disc contains a 10-minute featurette with Brad Garrett. It’s absolutely horrible, scary, and painful. Not only is Brad Garrett not funny, but he doesn’t talk about anything related to the show. Instead, he sits in a chair and attempts something akin to bad stand-up, throwing out bizarrely inappropriate jokes about al-Qaeda, all the while nagging and insulting his camera crew. It’s hard to watch. Really, really hard to watch. Somebody should have paid me to sit through this one.
Also present is “’Til Death: The Wedding.” As a promotional event, the cast of the show held an actual wedding ceremony for four lucky (unlucky) couples in Los Angeles. The event seems thrown-together, fast, and Brad Garrett, in his flippant way, finds any avenue of amusement possible, thereby diminishing the event to, once again, an opportunity for further bad stand-up.
Finally, on the last disc, we get a short “Behind the Scenes” featurette, which offers interviews with the cast. The feature pulls off an interesting challenge: like any good trailer, it pulls together in one place every funny moment of the series, projecting the illusion that the show is, in fact, the greatest thing since Friends. Even after watching the episodes and feeling incredibly dissatisfied, this feature made me feel some affection for the show. This affection is short-lived; it’s impossible to truly forget the truth of it.
We also have an obligatory set of bloopers, which is, like so much of the show, rather painful. If you slip the final disc into your DVD-ROM, it will link you to the show’s official web site where you can take a sneak peek at the upcoming second season. Which is rather amazing news: here’s hoping the series gets better fast.
I would avoid subjecting myself to the series any more than necessary, so if I were you, I’d leave it alone. Like I said at the beginning, it’s not entirely humorless (there are moments here and there), but it’s not worth the trouble. I was amazed to discover that the show has been renewed for another year, so it looks like the cast and crew of this show have been given a second chance. Since there is a bit of unachieved potential, I hope they can make the most of it.