“The Paul Reiser Show” is predicated on the fact that Reiser — the former “Mad About You” star — is happily bored these days, the married father of two boys, idly living in a big house and disconnected enough from Hollywood that he doesn’t know what to check under “occupation.” The gag loses considerable steam, though, once you realize he has chosen to busy himself writing, producing and starring in this tepid art-imitates-life comedy, which only serves to make “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and “Seinfeld” — its closest comedic kin — shine even brighter by comparison.
NBC clearly harbored its own misgivings about Reiser’s show, which has sat on the shelf until now, before being given what looks like a “What the hell” tryout Thursdays. That said, the series opens with its showiest episode — featuring a guest shot by Larry David, also playing himself — leaving the actual pilot until the fourth episode. This creates some continuity problems that, er, might never become an issue.
Reiser introduces each episode with a little direct-to-camera thought — usually infused with a touch of comedic neurosis — a bit like “Seinfeld’s” standup to frame his show. But the similarities pretty much end there.
Basically, Reiser spends most of his time as part of a mismatched quintet of fathers, thrown together — despite having little in common otherwise — by their wives and kids. It’s a slim premise that results in a lot of wacky but contrived situations.
Reiser’s posse includes lawyer Jonathan (Ben Shenkman), distressed-warehouse operator Habib (Omid Djalili), restaurateur Fernando (Duane Martin) and trust-fund baby Brad (Andrew Daly). When not with them, Paul banters with his wife (Amy Landecker) about his domestic shortcomings and interacts with showbiz denizens, in much the way “Curb” focuses on David’s exploits.
Small wonder, then, NBC opted to lead off with Reiser and David being considered to host the same gameshow (take that, Howie Mandel), with producer Mark Burnett also playing himself. It takes awhile to realize Reiser’s disloyal agent is pushing him to participate, but frankly, the series isn’t worth investing that much thought.
Reiser (who developed the show with Jonathan Shapiro, with the two sharing writing credit on all the episodes) can be quite funny, and he’s an underrated actor. Here, he self-deprecatingly presents himself as somebody on the fringe of fame — enough to trigger “Aren’t you that guy?” responses, but not stop traffic. He’s also at sea about what to do for an encore — having earned enough dough, clearly, that he needn’t worry about work. “I make pancakes and tell the kids to take a jacket,” he says.
Neither of those conceits, however, are satisfactorily explored, instead focusing on his silly adventures with the other dads. That’s not to say they don’t produce occasional moments, but their interaction is so painfully sitcom-y that any aspirations to do a network show with “Curb” or “Entourage”-like street cred quickly evaporates.
Actually, “The Paul Reiser Show” ought to mirror those HBO series in one key respect: attracting about as many viewers. On NBC, alas, such ratings will likely leave Reiser making pancakes, again wondering what he should do next.