If you clicked on this link expecting me to rip into Hot in Cleveland, you might as well stop reading now. I like the show. It makes me laugh. Hard. In a summer full of more cop shows than I can count on my fingers, it’s nice to have a traditional sitcom (filmed before a live studio audience) that actually works. Besides FX’s Louie, Hot in Cleveland is the only program that I look forward to each week. Moreover, it’s actually something I can enjoy with my wife, a woman who’s not all that into the jokes about bestiality on Louis C.K.’s new comedy series or the hard-drinking firemen of Rescue Me.
In the show, Valerie Bertinelli stars as Melanie, a divorced writer whose plane to Paris makes an emergency landing in Cleveland. With her on this aborted flight are her best friends: former soap star Victoria Chase, played by the brilliant Wendie Malick (Just Shoot Me) and Joy, eyebrow shaper to the stars, played by Jane Leeves (Frasier). Melanie and company are amazed to find a city where women are allowed to actually eat and aren’t as concerned about their figures 24/7. Moreover, being women of a certain age, they’re amazed that men actually take notice of them. Melanie quickly becomes enamored with Cleveland’s Midwestern charms and impulsively rents a big old house with a porch and a live-in caretaker. The caretaker is a pot-smoking, smart-assed World War II survivor played by the incomparable White. Of course, because Melanie is staying, Victoria and Joy decide to stay, too (otherwise there wouldn’t be a sitcom).
I’ll admit that the plots haven’t been too inventive. In one episode, the girls all go on blind dates that end disastrously, except for White, who winds up with another comedy giant, Carl Reiner. Just watching those two geniuses play off each other, and listening to them spit out double entendres, was worth the standard plot of the show. (I hear Clevelander Tim Conway is going to be appearing in a future episode as a rival to Reiner; I can’t wait.) In another episode, Melanie accidentally insults her neighbors and ends up having to woo one of them, a newspaper columnist played by Wayne Knight of Seinfeld.
The scripts have been tight and the writers aren’t afraid to throw in as many risque jokes as possible to keep Hot in Cleveland hip. Each actress is right on the mark and seems to be having a great time. I’ve been especially impressed with Bertinelli, as the last full-time gig she had was Touched by An Angel over seven years ago. She holds her own with a great supporting cast around her and shows that she hasn’t forgotten any of the comic timing she learned when she was appearing on One Day at a Time. Melanie could have come off as whiny and forgettable, easily overpowered by the awesomeness of Leeves, Malick and White. But Bertinelli makes Melanie likable and easy to cheer on, full of pep and optimism.
All four women have great chemistry; their onscreen friendships are quite believable. Leeves throws out wisecracks with ease, something she did marvelously when sharing the screen with Kelsey Grammer and company. Malick plays vain better than any actress on television, but can turn on a dime and stir emotions, like the poignancy she brought to the episode in which she faced the truth about again when she tried to rekindle a past affair with an ’80s rocker (played by Huey Lewis). And of course there’s Betty White.
TV Land must be thanking God that the producers of Hot in Cleveland cast Betty White before she became the breakout star of 2010. Having the screen legend on their show brought instant attention to this sitcom and the ratings for its summer premiere were the best in TV Land history. Not really sure if that’s saying much. Nevertheless, TV Land has their first bona fide hit series, and Hot in Cleveland has already been renewed for a second season.
Summer programming has become more original as cable networks try to show that the Big Four (we won’t count the CW) are running out of ideas. But there’s nothing wrong with doing something tried and true, as long as it works. For me, Hot in Cleveland works, and I’ll keep watching as long as it makes me laugh.