The Bill Engvall Show is the more traditional of the two sitcoms, and by traditional, I mean there’s nothing new here. In the show, Engvall, the popular stand up famous for his “blue collar,” plays Bill Pearson, a family counselor who can’t always figure out his own family.His typical sitcom nuclear family includes a smart, beautiful wife, played by the underrated Nancy Travis, and three very different children:An older, headstrong teenage girl played by Jennifer Lawrence, a space cadet teenage son played by Graham Patrick Martin, and a brainy, mature tween son played by Skyler Gisondo.In addition, Tim Meadows is on hand as Engvall’s best friend, Paul.Paul is a renowned hair-replacement specialist who is treated like part of the Pearson family. He likes to look good, but he’s unlucky in love.
As an added treat, Brian Doyle Murray shows up on occasion as the Pearson’s cranky neighbor. The plots of the The Bill Engvall Show are something you’ve seen thousands of times. So why watch it? For one, Travis is wonderful, and her scenes opposite Engvall ring true of a real marriage. Engvall may not be the best actor in the world, but he has good comic timing, and his interplay with Travis is fun to watch. Moreover, he and Meadows seem to have a real bond, and play off each other quite well. In general, the best-played scenes take place between the adult characters, whereas the scenes with the children are overly predictable. Still, despite the predictability of The Bill Engvall Show, the creators’ intent from the beginning was to create a “traditional family sitcom,” and they have succeeded in doing just that. In truth, this is the perfect type of show for summer viewing: not much required from you as a viewer and just enough laughs to go down with your beer.
I must admit that I turned off My Boys during its inaugural season. There was a bevy of hype surrounding the show, and it was praised by many critics as one of the best comedies on television; unfortunately, for me, it was originally paired with 10 Items or Less, a series that put me on the floor with laughter. Whenever My Boys came on, I found it nice, but not the greatest comedy since Arrested Development. Thus, when asked to review the upcoming second season, I tried to approach the show with an open mind, even though I feared hating it.
I’m here to tell you that I was wrong in tuning it out and should have given it a better chance, which I will now do. In watching the first couple episodes of the new season, I realized that My Boys being labeled a situation comedy is misleading, for it is anything but. Instead, the writing is subtle and the tone of the show veers closer to a good romantic comedy you might see in the theaters on any given weekend. While it isn’t going to have you cracking up laughing every 30 seconds, it will make you smile and actually feel good about watching television. Creator Betsy Thomas has steered the show in a good direction, creating something that is rare on television: an intelligent program that treats its audience with respect as grown-ups. Sure, there are some lowbrow jokes, but what do you expect when your main cast is sitting around a table playing poker at least once an episode?
What works best about My Boys is the interaction between the actors. Remember why everyone loved Friends? We all fell for the idea that those six characters were real friends, and that believability made the show work (and a huge success). My Boys has done the same thing with its lead, Jordana Spiro, and the fine actors her character, “PJ,” shares the screen with. The cast also includes the very funny Jim Gaffigan, Kyle Howard, Michael Bunin, Jamie Kaler, and Reid Scott. In addition, Kelle Stewart is around as PJ’s gal-pal, Stephanie. The banter these characters exchange is fun and reminiscent of late nights with old friends. Again, nothing revolutionary going on here, but like comfort food, My Boys has the ability to make you feel good and happy inside. If you haven’t already seen it, I say give it a shot. And if you’re like me and you walked away, I recommend giving it a second look now that the hype has died down and the show has been allowed to find its identity.
While the pairing of these two shows may seem a little odd, they actually work well together. Both seem to revel in their blue-collar mentality and, to borrow from a competing network, place the characters first. Like I said, you may not be doubled over in laughter, but the characters, and the actors playing them, are all likable enough that there are far worse ways to spend your Thursday night.