Geena Davis’ character Teddie seems to have never been around a child, asked a teenager a question or thought about her behavior in the presence of anyone beyond a boyfriend or her female friends. Variations on this “innocence lost,” to bastardize the poet William Blake, form the crux of “The Geena Davis Show” as Teddie maneuvers through the daily grind of raising stepkids, continuing to be the sexy mistress for hubby-to-be Max (Peter Horton) and holding down the top job at nonprofit event planning agency. Yet another vamp on “Sex in the City” — this time married to “Full House” — Davis’ return to the small screen needs to get more out of its ensemble to last more than a season.
Davis’ name is certainly the show’s drawing card, though it puts unrealistic expectations on what she can achieve in a show that’s not singularly star-driven and has an ensemble that has yet to gel. ABC has wisely given it a great timeslot behind “Dharma and Greg,” whose audience may well take to the rookie series.
The backstory of Davis’ Teddie is told lightning quick in the opener: She lives in Manhattan on a diet of takeout Chinese food, Starbucks coffee and the acerbic wit of her two friends Hillary (Mimi Rogers) and Judy (Kim Coles). She dates the laid-back writer Max for six weeks and boom they’re engaged. Teddie leaves the city for the suburbs and moves in. Both parties have put the adjustment of the two kids, Carter (“Freaks and Geeks'” John Francis Daley) and Eliza (Makenzie Vega), on the back burner.
The rough going manifests itself in the little things (singing in the car) and the major ones (forgetting to leave a note for a playdate; wandering the house in a T-shirt and panties).
Teddie is determined to do it all, but she’s doing it with a family that appears to be all out of sorts. Pre-schooler Eliza alternates between two opposite emotions — hate you, love you — and Carter’s hormonal imbalance isn’t as spot on as it could be. Horton plays Max as low-key and mellow, and it requires a press kit to know he’s an established writer. Otherwise, he appears about as employed as Ozzie Nelson.
Show isn’t so much bad as it is in need of a shakeup. The chemistry between Davis and her co-stars isn’t there, even after a couple of recastings. Rogers’ Hillary is cut from the same cloth as Christine Baranski’s Maryann on “Cybill,” and she gets the best lines of the lot. Weirdo workmate Alan (Harland Williams), as written, has little value, and housekeeper Gladys (Esther Scott) is stuck in an old-hat role. This combination of sex jokes, kid jokes and family jokes gets to be a mixture that’s difficult to contain and focus.
And two unscheduled episodes included for review suggest the writing is headed to a more puerile level. One episode features Teddie contributing to Carter’s bake sale, but her bat-and-ball creation is quickly dubbed “the penis cake” — a phrase that all involved enjoy saying over and over (shades of Lenny Bruce’s “Blah Blah Blah” routine). And then there’s the night the girls take Max to a play. What else? “The Vagina Monologues.”
Possibly time will help “The Geena Davis Show,” which shouldn’t be as off the mark as it is. The concept is good, its design is solid, the direction is effective and the players all have definite talent. Time to re-examine the scripts.