Where have you gone, George Costanza? Three years after logging off as TV’s most neurotic sidekick, Jason Alexander is back as TV’s most neurotic motivational speaker in “Bob Patterson.” Since it will forever be the custom to compare every new sitcom’s inspiration, writing and staying power to “Seinfeld,” it stands to reason that the classic’s cast — and their moves — will be similarly scrutinized. The track record so far? Michael Richard’s self-titled laffer was nixed after only seven episodes last year, and now viewers have to endure this much re-worked, re-cast mess.
Had the network and writers chosen the intellectual route, a la NBC’s “Frasier” (its timeslot competitor), “Bob Patterson” coulda been a contender: A professional positivity freak who can’t organize his own affairs is a good setup. What’s more, it’s ripe for supporting characters, situations and fast dialogue that spotlight its star’s anxiety and compulsions. As it stands, it’s just plain stale, a half-hour filled with boob jokes and cripple jokes.
Bob is the self-appointed, “No. 3” self-help guru on the circuit, and he’s ultraconfident onstage with meaningless catchphrases such as, “The only thing standing between you and your goals is you … and your goals.” In reality, he’s much less suave, making bad decisions about women, about himself and about his career.
Pilot is an introduction-fest, as Bob has lost his creative spark right before a big convention in La Jolla. His right-hand man is Landau (Robert Klein), a kiss-ass yes man who says all the wrong things and whose only job is to tell Bob how great he is. Also driving him mad are Claudia (Chandra Wilson), a black secretary who uses a wheelchair (and is the butt of many tasteless jokes); and Maria (guest Alex Meneses), a gorgeous delivery woman who fuels Bob’s libido. Doesn’t your office have a Sparklett’s gal who could be a model?
As Bob suffers through his creative drought, his wife comes back after a fling. Janet (Jennifer Aspen) is a flighty artisan who’s into self awareness (how very Dharma!), but now that she’s back, she’s declared herself celibate. It’s up to Bob to handle these life-changing situations while John Tesh shows up to complain about an infomercial in which he stars with Bob on the beach.
“Bob Patterson” is, unexpectedly, not funny at all. Like a decade-old rerun, the laughtrack seems to be going at full steam and the rimshot one-liners — there’s actually a comment about Maria’s “jugs” as she carries two big bottles of water — are as juvenile and washed-up as they come.
Perfs are also sketchy. Alexander is a pro here, trying his best to carry the load (his trademark instability bubbles up only rarely), but it doesn’t click. Even without a “Seinfeld” comparison, this project, which he co-exec produced and co-wrote, isn’t edgy or topical. And like so many recently cancelled shows — “Kristin,” “D.A.G.” — the office-generated relationships are staged and jokey.
Rest of the players fall flat. Klein is shapeless as the clueless partner-in-crime; his role model should have been “Just Shoot Me’s” George Segal, pitch-perfect as a supporting character who strengthens a narrative without crowding it. Aspen, who came aboard after the original wife was recast, is too hyper and unfocused, and her Jenna Elfman-ness feels forced. Wilson is there only to serve as a comic punching bag.
Tech credits are standard fare, with director Barnet Kellman and vet set designer Tho E. Azzari offering up no new takes on different environments. Something unique — camera angles, editing, something! — could have added an entirely different dimension.