Boiled down to a personal ad — and rest assured, there’s about that much substance to it — “Gary Unmarried” would read as follows: “Divorced white male seeks audience. Has two kids, quarrelsome ex-wife, and one-night stand/possible g.f. Those looking for anything fresh, new or consistently amusing need not apply.” Any takers? Based on the grainy snapshot (otherwise known as the pilot), CBS shouldn’t stay home waiting by the phone.
Originally dubbed “Project Gary,” the new title represents a modest improvement, but nothing else here is, including the late casting of Ed Begley Jr. as the divorced couple’s touchy-feely marriage counselor. Jay Mohr brings what charm he can to Gary, whose shy 14-year-old son (Ryan Malgarini) worries that some girl is going to want him to “tap it,” and whose 11-year-old daughter (Kathryn Newton) harbors improbable crushes on Al Gore and Gandhi.
Mostly, though, Gary trades insults with his ex-wife (Paula Marshall, who really needs to stop jumping into the sack with uninspired series) and stammers toward the beautiful young woman (Jaime King) with whom he’s in bed when the premiere begins.
The prospects for transforming that slim premise into a satisfying show would seem less grim if those elements could survive a half-hour. Certainly, nothing in the prototype written by Ed Yeager — rife with sex talk that tries but never quite rises to the level of smutty — suggests there are vast humor reservoirs upon which to draw. Mohr, meanwhile, possesses some of the bad-boyish qualities of Charlie Sheen but lacks the support system that allowed “Two and a Half Men” to flourish — even with director James Burrows’ usually sure touch guiding them.
Unfortunately for “Gary,” the series also won’t be the beneficiary of that “Men” lead-in; instead, the show lands alongside the consistently funny but modestly rated “The New Adventures of Old Christine,” as CBS tries to add laughs to a new night. Despite thematic similarities between the two programs (divorced couple still very much in each other’s lives, jointly raising young children), the resemblance pretty much fizzles once the word “quality” arises.
Like most divorced dads, both the show and the guy would clearly be advised to lower expectations. Even so, extending “Gary’s” mission to find love in a cold, cruel primetime world is a renovation project that appears well beyond its modest means.