Jason Alexander was already 0-for-2, missing badly with both “Bob Patterson” and “Listen Up.” Michael Richards had struck out with his own eponymously named project. And Ms. Elaine Benes herself, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, couldn’t get enough watchers for “Watching Ellie.”
Indeed, “Seinfeld curse” was beginning to be as accepted a term as “spongeworthy” or “close-talker” by the time Kari Lizer left “Will & Grace,” where she’d served as writer and recurring guest star, and sat down to write a pilot for Warner Bros.
For months she’d been kicking around the story of a single mom who remains friendly with her ex-husband. The pilot script came more easily than anything she’d ever written.
“I wanted to do something personal,” Lizer says. “First of all, I’m divorced — beyond that, I have three kids. My ex and I happen to have a very civilized divorce. … I hadn’t seen that represented (on TV) a lot.”
Despite the previous post-“Seinfeld” misadventures, Louis-Dreyfus’ name still carried enough weight to get “Old Christine” — which averaged 12.6 million viewers this season and was picked up for a second campaign by CBS — on the air. Still, having Lizer develop a strong supporting cast around her helped.
“It was built around her,” Lizer says. “And it really became about chemistry. Clark Gregg (who plays Christine’s ex-husband, Richard), I already knew — I thought he was twinkly and interesting and great and real, so we begged him to come read with Julia.
“The little kid, Trevor Gagnon (who plays Christine’s son), he came in and read, and he was just it. When Julia read with him, he listened to her.
“We’ve been pleasantly surprised that each of the characters can hold their own. We can give stories and plot and things to any one of them. So, Julia doesn’t have to drive the bus all the time.”
Best episode: “A Fair to Remember.” Of course, there’s a little Elaine in Christine. In this episode, she attends her son’s school carnival dressed in sexy black lace to impress a single dad she used to date — a mission that’s set back a bit when she drops a purse full of tampons.
Funniest character: Louis-Dreyfus is the highlight. When Christine gets nervous, she rambles monologues of near nonsense. And her physical comedy is superb. You feel something for her as you laugh.
What should happen next season? Move some of the focus on the funny Hamish Linklater (Christine’s brother Matthew). He should meet a girl, only to have Christine somehow transfer her neuroses onto her.