The New Adventures of Old Christine, "Bahamian Rhapsody"

The New Adventures of Old Christine, "Bahamian Rhapsody"

Primetime broadcast television has been in limbo for almost a decade.  Scripted shows are on the decline; reality, talk, and news are on the rise; and networks are desperate to keep up with the times.  So to some people, the dogged persistence of the three-camera, live-audience, laugh-track, half-hour situation comedy is a sign of the industry's creative bankruptcy.  No creator or network that fails to wake up and smell the single-camera coffee -- hey, it's the only kind of comedy for a new millennium -- could possibly be worth the savvy viewer's time.

To others, though -- and you'll have to count me among them -- every traditional sitcom that manages to find life in the old picked-over bones of that genre is cause for joy.  Most of us grew up on these kinds of shows, and their familiar rhythms are as natural to us as breathing.  (Older folks might find it disconcerting, in fact, that single-camera shows don't give you a second to enjoy the joke before they rush on to the next one.)  Performances are different in these sitcoms -- pitched at a stagier, more theatrical level, and therefore capable of delivering nuance by just changing the volume level.

A lot of half-hour comedies provide a mix of single-camera and three-camera elements, some to great effect, like How I Met Your Mother.  But it's heartening to a certain demographic (and evidence of decrepitude to another, it must be said) that CBS has a few very fine completely traditional sitcoms.  And possibly my favorite of them -- and one of my favorite shows on television anywhere these days -- is The New Adventures Of Old Christine.  For those of you who rarely venture into the Tiffany Network, Old Christine is Julia Louis-Dreyfuss's post-Seinfeld show, and one of the reasons I love it is that it proves her comedic talent.  She plays a divorced mother who co-owns a gym with her friend Barb (Wanda Sykes) and is trying to deal with her ex-husband's relationship with a younger woman who unfortunately shares her name (Emily Rutherford).  Christine is not Elaine, yet she is not aggressively anti-Elaine, as might happen with an actor who had to prove she could be something other than the iconic character that made her famous.  She's neurotic, too fond of wine, impulsive, insecure, willing to get gay-married to her best friend to keep her from being deported, and way too in touch with the moment-to-moment fluctuations of her emotional state.  And she's hilarious.

When we left Christine, ex-husband Richard, brother Matthew, and Barb last season, they were at Richard's wedding to New Christine ... which fell apart with Richard left at the altar, Christine deceived by New Christine's engaged father, Matthew jilted by New Christine's two-night stand sister, and Barb romantically revealing her immigration status to the one person who shouldn't be hearing about it -- an immigration officer.  When Christine visits Barb in jail and hears her protestations that she can't go back to the Bahamas to await papers, she understands completely: "Because of the pirates?" she adds sympathetically.  What Barb needs Christine to do is go to the Bahamas and find the guy who got her visa.  Meanwhile, Richard is determined to lay siege to New Christine for as long as it takes to get her back on track to that dream honeymoon: making love in an airplane lavatory, with her crammed up against the cold metal sink, head resting on the no smoking sign. ("OK, it wasn't going to be so great for you," he concedes.) 

Leaving in haste, Christine didn't prepare well for a transatlantic flight.  She didn't bring money for wine or snacks, she can't use the provided pillow because she found a curly hair on it, and her attempt to use the inflatable life vest as a travel pillow incurs the wrath of a flight attendant.  Then she gets off the plane without her passport or ticket and winds up stuck in immigration limbo while Matthew fails to find Bongo, the visa guy.  And Richard finds out that New Christine is totally over him after only one day ("I don't live in the past.  I can even sit through a Colin Farrell movie and feel nothing," she explains.)

The season premiere is a bit too scattered and crazy to really showcase what's lovely about New Christine.  But the strength of Louis-Dreyfuss and Sykes comes through loud and clear.  Keep watching, if you're willing to venture into the old school, and if you want to enjoy the living side of a great tradition.

Grade: B

Stray observations:


- It's said that everything has to be back to normal once the half-hour is over, and sure enough, everybody's back in Christine's living room at the end of the show.  But Christine had to pull out the big guns ("everybody speaks boob") to get out of detention, and Barb had to get fake-engaged to stay in the country ... fake-engaged to Richard.

- "You dated Colin Farrell?!" Richard asks?  "... Nothing," New Christine observes.