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STUDIO: Warner Bros.
RUNNING TIME: 525 Minutes
"Hey, you know how Friends was really popular? Let’s spin it off! Which one doesn’t have a viable big screen career or drug problem?"
Matt LeBlanc, Drea DeMatteo, Andrea Anders, Paulo Costanzo. Guest stars include Lucy Liu, Brent Spiner, Bob Oedenkirk, Bob Saget, but not one member of the cast of Friends.
Lovably dimwitted wannabe actor Joey Tribbiani leaves his Friends behind for a new life in Los Angeles, where he moves in with his genius nephew, hangs out with his slutty sister, and keeps forgetting to lock the door on his WASPy neighbor. And he nails a bunch of chicks.
There’s a point when you’ve been watching episode after episode of a TV series on DVD that Stockholm Syndrome kicks in. After three solid hours spent with these actors, on these sets, you begin to maybe like them, to feel like you’re all in it together. This can be especially pronounced with a show like Joey, which actually does get better as it goes along.
The first season of Joey presents us with a weird show. It was a spin-off of one of the most successful sitcoms in history, and one of the better ones. For whatever pop cultural annoyances Friends created, it was a sharply written show whose comedy would often come from the characters and not lame situations they had been forced into. Joey seems to have tried to distance itself from the mothership from the start – the title character moves to LA, the cast is not as big and varied as the Friends cast, and there’s almost none of the sharp writing.
The writing is dulled in Joey, and so is Matt LeBlanc. The guy wasn’t some kind of a comic genius on Friends, but he had good timing, and he was playing a character who was a walking punchline. Saddling that character with his own show seems completely ill-advised, and the first season of Joey really proves it. LeBlanc and his costars often deliver their punchlines like vaudevillians, shouting the joke to the rafters. Cue the too-eager laughter to make sure that when the badly delivered joke falls it lies down dead.
The costars don’t come off well. Drea deMatteo seems to have been shot in the head in Jersey and woken up in some kind of comedy purgatory – she’s playing one of Joey’s many sisters who previously moved out west to start a hair dressing business. It’s a constant race to see who is dumber, her or Joey. Her son is a genius and a nerd, playing the exasperated foil to his family, while the next door neighbor (and for no discernable reason, apartment building super) is a WASPy annoyance whose presence makes zero sense – you never believe she would want to hang out with these people, and that’s after the show goes out of its way to explain why she would hang out with these people. LeBlanc and Matteo have excellent chemistry, and they might have been funnier if cast as lovers instead of siblings. The rest of the regular cast can disappear for all I care – especially American Pie’s MILF, Jennifer Coolidge, who is unrelentingly annoying as Joey’s agent. Also her face has had so much work done that she looks like Karen Black after sticking her kisser in a dozen beehives.
Halfway through the first season it became obvious that Joey wasn’t doing well, and the producers began retooling the premise. This makes some of the middle run of episodes feel jumbly, as they try different combinations and concepts, but when they hit on giving Joey a regular role on a modestly successful WB-type show (as a dad, no less), they hit the formula that works. Before that storyline Joey could have been set anywhere, but once they make the stories more city-specific things take off. And while insider looks at Hollywood may be just about done by now, thanks to such great work as Entourage, it at least makes for something more interesting than rehashing Friends plotlines with Joey in shitty local plays.
By the time the fourth disc rolls around the show seems to have found its groove – it’s a little broader than Friends, and a touch wackier, which when done right works. And there are even some episodes that drew more than a handful of laughs from me. Of course it seems like no one stuck around to see how the show developed – it got cancelled halfway through the second season.
There is neither Jack nor shit on this DVD. It’s kind of sad that LeBlanc could go from the biggest show on TV to a season and a half wipeout, but it’s even sadder that the DVD set includes nothing at all extra on it, not even promos or EPK material. The pilot episode was originally shot with another actress as the neighbor – what would it have cost them to include that for the heck of it?
The picture and sound are fine, while the set itself comes in two thin snapcases inserted in a cardboard sleeve. The cases have no outer design, just episode listings. The whole set feels rushed and cheap. And sad.