Let’s give the producers of “In-Laws” kudos where they deserve it: Sitcom’s concept is laid out before the first commercial break, and Dennis Farina is given ample opportunity to display his impeccable comic timing. While not without possible charms that could point it in the direction of “King of Queens,” “In-Laws” suffers a lack of likeable or odd characters and, in the first two segs, relatively predictable scripts. Farina’s appeal, though, may just be enough to get “Just Shoot Me” viewers to tune in early.
“In-Laws” is a classically structured family sitcom with the head of the household, Farina as Victor Pellet, pitted primarily against his new son-in-law Matt (Elon Gold). Daughter Alex (Bonnie Somerville), a nurse, and Matt move in with Mom and Dad in the New York ‘burbs so Matt can attend cooking school and they can live rent free.
Marlene (Jean Smart), Victor’s wife, has become a real estate agent, which takes out of the house — specifically the kitchen. Victor, who lends $30,000 to Matt for cooking school, owns an armored car business, but his main activity is putting Marlene and Alex on their own pedestals.
As is the case with sitcom patriarchs, what Victor says, goes, not matter how kooky or misguided. He rides his son-in-law pretty hard in both of the first two episodes and, despite Alex presenting her father’s logic, he fights her tooth and nail. Jokes in the pilot target sex and Victor marking his territory as king of the castle; second seg, “Fleetwood Matt,” centers on Victor’s prized Cadillac.
Farina, whose last TV show was 1998’s well-reviewed “Buddy Faro,” gets the lions share of the laughs and his character’s gruffness and potshots give “In-Laws” its energy and spirit. Without him, show would burn out in a hurry.
As Victor’s wife Marlene, Jean Smart plays it all perky and self-satisfied; it’s not all that different than her later “Designing Women” days. Bonnie Somerville, as Victor’s daughter Alex, plays off Farina quite well — she’s keenly aware of the advantages he provides her and she convincingly shows whose side she’s on as hubby and dad duke it out.
The son-in-law Matt is all wrong: He chooses odd moments to stand up for himself, he’s overly self-pitying and the outrage that his behavior prompts is justified. Elon Gold’s perf only adds to Matt’s annoying nature, generating no chemistry between himself and the other cast members. Auds need someone to sympathize with and Matt is just too much of a sad sack to generate that emotion.
Direction bolsters typical sitcom feel by having the actors move quit a bit about the set. Show has some good energy and by using every room in the house, auds quickly get an accurate feel for life in the Pellet home.
Cassette supplied was labeled rough cut (no credits or outside shots), but the laugh track had already been added; between opening scene and first break, the track burst out 23 annoying times, enough to stymie anyone’s enjoyment of this show rather than inspire them to laugh.