'Retired at 35': Why is traditional sitcommery so irresistible?

retired-at-35-castImage Credit: TVLandTV Land proved one thing with its premiere of Retired at 35 last night: This cable net has got its brand formula down. Like USA before it, with its quirky-light-heroes-solve-cases gambit, the channel — formerly reserved for endless repeats of classic TV (not that I’m complaining about the All in the Family on my DVR) — has nailed what will clearly now become its go-to approach. The hit Hot in Cleveland served up the template checklist: 1. Ridiculous premise that it’s best to accept without too much thinking. (L.A. ladies of a certain age “crash land” in Cleveland on their way to Paris and decide to stay there? Sure, why not!) 2. Make roommates of an unlikely combo of colorful characters sure to clash. (Ladies “must” live with the “caretaker” of their new house, a sassy lady of an even more advanced certain age.) 3. Have absolute comedy pros star in the show, and watch the viewers — and the skilled readings of even the lamest lines — roll in. (That’s you, Betty White; but also you, Wendie Malick, Jane Leeves, and Valerie Bertinelli.)

Retired at 35 does all of this. The setup asks you to believe that a harried 35-year-old exec named David (Johnathan McClain) would leave his New York job in a huff and move in with his parents in a retirement community. It’s ridiculous, it’s a little cheesy (dad calls texting “textualizing”? really?), it employs the setup-joke-laughtrack structure we all thought we were so over when we started watching more sophisticated comedy like 30 Rock and Curb Your Enthusiasm.

It’s like something straight out of another of those super-cool single-camera comedies, The Comeback. And yet. I found myself snuggling up to Retired at 35‘s comforting rhythms, not to mention loving seeing Arrested Development grande dame Jessica Walter doing her thing (ma’am, you deserved so much better than that grandma role on 90210) alongside Just Shoot Me vet George Segal (who even kinda sold the “textualizing” line). The naughty, adult-humor twist (after all, the audience here is well over 18) gives both Hot in Cleveland and Retired at 35 a distinctive quality that only adds to their odd allure.

I’m not about to quote either one at hip cocktail parties, or put them on my Facebook profile as my favorite shows, but I can think of worse ways of killing off a Sunday afternoon than catching either on my DVR. What did you think, PopWatchers? Am I the only one finding a little bit of guilty pleasure over in TV Land?

On Twitter: @jenmarmstrong

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  • M&M

    I lovedddddddddddddd seeing Jessica Walter back on tv. Yeah 90210 did not deserve her.

  • pastafarian

    For Jessica Walter, I’m looking forward to Archer moreso than whatever this show is.

  • Aldo

    I hope Rodney Rothman is getting paid by TV Land after they used his book as a sitcom. Read Early Bird.

    • Kari

      That is exactly what I thought when I read about this show. I haven’t seen the credits, but I’d think they’d have to at least say “inspired by” or something to that effect. Early Bird was great and this sounds comfortingly funny, but I hope credit is given where it’s due.

  • Mary

    I was an immediate fan of Hot in Cleveland last year, and am thrilled that it’s back. I also looked forward to Retired at 35 – the commercials made it seem like another quirky laughfest with no real meaning. However, I was sadly disappointed. It was painful to sit through the entire show, and it will be the only episode I ever watch. Jessica Walter’s talents are truly wasted on this drek.

  • claire gray

    TERRIBLE!!!!! What a waste of time and effort!!! I won’t be watching again. HOT IN CLEVELAND is a MUST. Then the TV will “go dark” when the credits roll

  • kim in kentucky

    Agree with Claire — HOT is okay and I’ll still watch it mostly for the actors but this show STUNK! It was embarressly bad, even for TV Land.

  • Buffy Freak

    This was a painful groanfest. I’ve never understood the appeal of George Segal but the guy who plays the son makes Segal seem like he ranks among the all-time great sitcom actors.

  • ZF

    Hot in Cleveland has improved a little. Retired at 35 was hard to watch. The actors who play the son and his friend seem to thing acting = shouting and making faces. Even though the premise is stupid, better actors could have sold it.

    • ZF

      seem to *think*

  • Cici217

    This show stunk to high heaven. Like what was mentioned above, HiC was almost immediately entertaining even if it was old school comedy. R@35 was more like a canceled TV pilot that some network aired just to fill a vacancy on their sched

    • Buffy Freak

      Well said…totally agree about the TV pilot line.

  • tracy bluth

    Did David want to get rid of the Seaward?

  • cameobrooch

    Jonathan McClain is one of the least attractive and least appealing actors I’ve seen on television in a long time.

  • von jones

    Agreed with those who said the lead was awful; he was very blah. I think Hot in Cleveland is a great example of how any standard punchline can be gold in the hands of the right actor. The rest of the cast on Retired at 35 was amazing, but Jonathan McClain is maybe too new and too fresh to be a pro at the tried-and-true sitcom formula/humor.

  • Todd W

    I actually have to disagree. I thought this guy was the only one trying to do something with the horribly written material. I actually felt like George Segal and Jessica Walter were just phoning it in and doing the same thing I’ve seen them do a thousand times, but I thought the guy was okay. He wasn’t helped at all by the terrible script however and I probably won’t watch again.

  • L

    I’ve tried to watch HIC several times, and I just can’t get into it. Retired looks just as dumb. I’m happy to see the actors on TV again, just not in this schlock.

  • Bruce L

    Unfortunately, Arrested Development absolutely killed my ability to enjoy laugh-track sitcoms on even a “guilty pleasure” level. Whether it’s old-fashioned nothing like TV Land does, or even “cool” stuff like “How I Met Your Mother” and “The Big Bang Theory,” I just find them painful.

    • economistman

      I knew this show was in trouble when the guy was talking on his cell phone at the beginning and he says something that wasn’t even a joke a the crowd “roared”. I actually think the writing on Hot In Cleveland is pretty bad at times, but the actors are so charismatic that I find myself having a great time, and I think the situation, although unbelievable, is actually really funny. Jane Malick always has me laughing, before she even says a word. But in the wrong hands, HIC would have sunk without a trace…I feel bad because Shelly Long is coming on as Seagal’s love interest – but I just don’t see where this show is going…the kid slept with his new girlfriend’s mother who is father was trying to date…in the first episode!

    • Christine

      Arrested spoiled me for the sitcom, period.

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