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Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Jacked up: Actor best known for dramatic work survives move to comedy

Posted: 03/27/2014 1:00 AM | Comments: 0

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It takes a tough guy to deliver tough love.

That's the sentiment that drives Surviving Jack, a new comedy from the guy who brought you $#*! My Dad Says. The series, which premières March 27 on Fox and CTV, is a sort-of-retro sitcom (it's set all the way back in 1991) that stars a guy more known for stone-faced drama than slapstick hilarity.

Christopher Meloni (Law & Order: SVU, Oz, True Blood) stars as Jack Dunlevy, a successful physician who decides to cut back on medical-practice hours in order to support his wife Joanne (Rachael Harris) as she pursues a long-held dream of studying law.

That means Jack will take over primary parenting duties, which doesn't sit well with teenage offspring Frankie (Connor Buckley) and Rachel (Claudia Lee). Jack, you see, is a former military type who has very specific, no-nonsense, results-oriented ideas about right and wrong -- which, basically, boil down to this: Jack is right; everybody else is wrong.

This makes for an awkward but moderately effective kind of TV comedy because Jack is one of those annoying know-it-all dads who also happens to be correct more often than not. His methods and messages are blunt, but his heart -- if, in fact, he has one -- is in the right place.

In the series opener, Jack walks in as Frankie is attempting to circumvent circa-1990 cable-box technology to get a quick glimpse of partially scrambled premium-TV porn. After posing a few necessarily embarrassing questions, Jack sends his son out for three quick middle-of-the-night laps around the block.

Later, when Jack learns that Frankie is afraid to ask out the girl who's the object of his adolescent crush, his fatherly attempt to force the matter involves sneaking a bundle of extra-large condoms into Frankie's lunch bag, which leads to a rather humiliating revelation in the school cafeteria.

Jack's handling of Rachel's revelation that she has a new boyfriend is even more traumatic. Keeping his own son on the straight and narrow is one thing; keeping someone else's son from putting his hands where they don't belong requires some serious scare tactics.

Based on $#*! My Dad Says creator Justin Halpern's autobiographical book I Suck at Girls and produced by TV veteran Bill Lawrence (Scrubs, Cougar Town), this new comedy offering is very much a hit-and-miss affair. When it works, it's mostly because it's so much fun watching Meloni -- who has made a few sitcom guest appearances (including Scrubs) but hasn't tackled an ongoing comedy role since the best-forgotten 1990-91 series The Fanelli Boys -- throw himself completely into the role of a hard-ass dad with a soft heart buried deep beneath the bluster.

Harris is likable as the wife who knows how to make her husband reveal his inner marshmallow, while Buckley and Lee hit most of the right notes as the newly terrified teens.

But there's no doubt: if Surviving Jack does, indeed, survive, it'll be because of Jack.

brad.oswald@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @BradOswald

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 27, 2014 C8

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