The television network TV Land specializes in "classic" sitcoms, so it's no surprise that their original series Hot in Cleveland follows that formula. It features stars from sitcoms (and appearances by many of their old co-stars), plenty of pratfalls and crazy schemes, and even the opening announcement that the show was filmed in front of a live studio audience. The best thing Hot in Cleveland does is capitalize on the revitalized career of Betty White.

The setup is pretty simple: Three L.A. middle-aged women want a change. Melanie (Valerie Bertinelli, from One Day at a Time) is a sweet, romantic writer whose kids are in college and whose ex-husband just got remarried. Joy Scroggs (Jane Leeves, from Frasier) is a beautician to the stars, and she has horrible luck with men. Victoria Scroggs (Wendie Malick, from Just Shoot Me) is an egotistical star whose soap opera just got canceled and is only offered roles for older women. The three decide to move to Paris, but when their plane gets delayed in Cleveland they find that the men there think that they're sexy, so the three opt for Cleveland as their new home.

And since every sitcom needs a quirky elderly person, their home's caretaker is Elka Ostrovsky (Betty White). Elka is insulting, brash, very sexually active, possibly an alcoholic, and possibly a pothead. Fans of Betty White have seen her perform this sort of character many times -- from The Mary Tyler Moore Show to My Name Is Earl -- which may be why she does it so well.

The rest of Hot in Cleveland doesn't fare so well. While the show could find some depth with its comedy, instead it opts for pretty one-dimensional characters (Melanie's cute! Joy is cynical (but with a heart of gold)! Victoria is comically selfish!) and silly situations, from a series of bad dates to a cursed girdle. The show wants to mine humor from matching its stars with their past co-stars -- in two seasons there have been appearances from Bonnie Franklin (also from One Day at a Time), Peri Gilpin (also from Frasier), and when Olga winds up in prison, her cellmate is, of course, played by Mary Tyler Moore! -- but that just adds to the artificial feeling of this, well sitcom. The jokes are mostly one-liners or visual gags that get more chuckles than laughs.

Hot in Cleveland feels like a deliberate throwback to the television comedies of old. Given that all the stars are women, I'd have hoped for something more for women and less of the same old sitcom cliches. Betty White aside, Hot in Cleveland is very, very typical.

Overall grade: C
Reviewed by James Lynch

No comments: