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9JKL - Pilot - Advance Preview: "Immense displeasure"

In recent years, acting categories at major award ceremonies would seem to have brought into question the very nature of comedy on television. Jeffrey Tambor won two straight Emmys for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy, for a Transparent performance that is, by and large, dramatic. But the understanding of what comedy is should not change.

The genre’s main goal is to be funny, no matter the manner of how that is conveyed. There would be no doubt that Atlanta, for instance, falls under comedy, despite it being told largely in a dramatic way.

By this definition, 9JKL is very much a comedy. But to call it so out of anything other than respect for the existence of genres and sorting shows into such categories would be misguided and insulting.

Bad television shows can be tolerated. What cannot and should not be tolerated is a television show with a rotten heart, so misguided in its very existence that the sheer idea of liking it sends chills down my spine for fear that someone, anyone, might look at the set-up of the series and believe its representation of life to be not only realistic (*) but in any way healthy.

(*) Even considering Feuerstein’s quotes (five paragraphs down, immediately after the Helen Lovejoy remark), I don’t believe this show to be realistic in the slightest.

9JKL, at its core, is broken. This is a series described as based loosely on married co-creators Mark Feuerstein and Dana Klein’s real life. In it, Josh Roberts (Feuerstein) is a divorced actor, living in an adjacent apartment to his parents, Harry (Elliott Gould) and Judy (Linda Lavin), with another adjacent apartment home to Josh’s brother, Andrew (David Walton), sister-in-law, Eve (Liza Lapira), and their newborn baby. No brownie points for guessing the three apartment numbers; the series title is somehow more creative than its content, however.

The very ideas behind this series are, without question, some of the worst in recent years. Its execution is terrible, with no laughs to the extent that it is difficult to believe, but the message this show is trying to convey about family values is often vomit-inducing. Throughout the pilot, we are forced to watch as Josh, seemingly treated in a way that would feel degrading to a seven-year-old child, continues to act as though this is normal. The very suggestion of enforcing some ground rules is instantly rejected by his mother in what seems like little more than an obsession for control.

There is a moment where Andrew makes a gesture with his hands (not too dissimilar to Ross in this Friends scene) when Josh, with him there, meets a female friend he knew from college. Later, Andrew seems gleeful in suggesting the woman was checking him out. Remember: he’s married with a newborn.

Not to go full Helen Lovejoy, but won’t somebody please think of the children?

It is sad to look at this in light of Feuerstein’s comments on The Late Show on Thursday night (28th September), explaining how the show came to be: “I was here shooting Royal Pains for like eight years… and to save money I stayed in an apartment that my parents owned which is next to the apartment that I grew up in and they live in. So as an adult man, every day I’d wake up with my father coming in, in his tighty-whiteys, going, ‘Mark, you want breakfast? You want eggs? You want French toast?’ And then at night after a 15-hour day I would come home trying to get into my apartment and, like a gunslinger in a nightgown, my mother would whip open the door and say, ‘Would you like to come in for a salad?’ And of course, I would sit with her for 45 minutes and hear about the day’s events, because I’m a good boy.”

Feuerstein goes on to describe how his brother and wife lived on the other side, and how a producer suggested this could be turned into a television show. Hypothetically, that producer was right; realistically, the show’s target market would appear to be limited exclusively to Feuerstein and his family. And it remains as such thanks to its bumbling, nauseating failure to be even remotely better than the sight of an uncooked slice of meat and mouldy bread rolls being served to you at a restaurant in which you have had so few good meals in the last ten years you could count them on one hand.

Is this really the best CBS has to offer in the way of comedy in 2017? 9JKL, bewilderingly, was considered a front-runner from the get-go in development. But the show appears to believe that it is both funny and appropriate for a 79-year-old father to a 46-year-old man to be hunched over his bed with just a shirt and underwear on when he wakes up. (Josh, incidentally, sleeps with no clothes on, making the whole situation even worse.) And yes, there is a joke made in that scene about Harry’s nether regions.

Of course, you’d be forgiven for assuming that is the only comment made in that genre. You would also be wrong; one moment later concerns Josh's balls having been inside his mother; another not only references Harry’s testicles but his semen, a pair of distasteful jokes probably fit less for a network comedy than a woefully bad pornography. They are on the extreme end of the style but yet feel totally in place on a show this ignorant toward its own failings. Whether or not this happened in Feuerstein’s life is irrelevant - that anyone with a modicum of power in showbusiness wrote or approved this script feels like the industry has, in one hit, taken 35 steps backwards.

9JKL's basic setup may trick some into believing it to be a family comedy. Do not be fooled. I wouldn’t let anyone in my family - irrespective of age - watch this series, and I certainly wouldn’t want the immense displeasure of watching it with someone in my family. Even Game of Thrones, with its constant nudity and sex and violence and the like, would be preferable to watch with a parent than 9JKL - at least there, the moments that would be awkward aren’t the point.

Where ABC has perfected the art of the genre, it would appear CBS have plenty to learn. This is a show against which all future comedy pilots should be compared. Indeed, upon watching the newest sitcom, whatever it may be and wherever it may come from, it is worth thinking back. “Is this worse than 9JKL,” you should contemplate.

When the answer is no, perhaps take another moment to muse over said show’s shortcomings. If - and this is a big, planet-sized if - the answer is yes, perhaps hide under your bed in fear for the clearly rapidly declining state of comedy television.

The latter option will probably not be a concern for quite some time.

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