Fresh from a record fifth consecutive comedy series Emmy triumph for “Frasier ,” exec producers David Angell, Peter Casey and David Lee (along with Chuck Ranberg and Anne Flett-Giordano) supply ample evidence of how difficult it is to make a great TV comedy series or a good one — even if you have a splendid comic performer like Lane on board.
They have done Lane no favors by turning him into a pompous SOB whose character, Joe Pinoni, was until recently a world-class Italian opera star. Now he’s a washed-up egomaniac with irreparably damaged vocal cords who moves home to disrupt his family’s Napa Valley winery business.
In the kickoff show, Joe loses his chops and is bummed out because he’s no longer the center of everyone’s universe. He treks unannounced to Napa, to the delight of his mom Marie (Joan Plowright), who likes to attend funerals of people she’s never met for the food and companionship. His return horrifies his resentful sister Francesca (Glenne Headly) and piques the curiosity of his nephew Michael (Trevor Fehrman).
Francesca still hasn’t gotten over the fact that no one attended her oboe recital way back when. Joe is yet to mature beyond the Terrible Twos. She’s allergic to eggplant, he to civility. And so they clash as two sibling misfits. It could be amusing, but not as written by Ranberg, Flett-Giordano and Charlie Hauck.
Lane is able to tackle material this dreadful and emerge with his reputation essentially intact — a credit to his talent and an indicator that he is primed to soar with the right series project. This ain’t it.
It’s naturally redundant to conclude that “Encore! Encore!” doesn’t deserve its prime positioning between the swan-songing “Mad About You” and the inspired “Just Shoot Me.” The lesson from the show’s early creative woes would appear to be this: If it ain’t fixed, don’t break it.