How to Build a Better Boston Sitcom (i.e., Not ‘The McCarthys’)

’The McCarthys’ starring (from left) Joey McIntyre as Gerard, Tyler Ritter as Ronny, Jack McGee as Arthur, Laurie Metcalf as Marjorie, Jimmy Dunn as Sean, and Kelen Coleman as Jackie.
’The McCarthys’ starring (from left) Joey McIntyre as Gerard, Tyler Ritter as Ronny, Jack McGee as Arthur, Laurie Metcalf as Marjorie, Jimmy Dunn as Sean, and Kelen Coleman as Jackie. –CBS

There’s a lot of funny stuff to be mined out of living in Boston, as Cheers proved over 11 seasons. Sadly, since then, network television has wrung very few chuckles out of our fair city. Ally McBeal and Boston Public had their laughs, but they were lighter procedurals, not sitcoms. Does anyone remember Boston Common, Costello or Lenny? Yeah, didn’t think so.

The McCarthys is another in the string of mirthless Boston sitcoms. The pilot clunkily lays out the concept; Ronnie McCarthy (Tyler Ritter) is a 29-year-old guidance counselor, a sports-clueless outlier in his Celtics-loving, stereotypical Southie family. He’s gay and erudite, a splash of color on the gray palette laid out by his siblings, caustic Gerard (Joey McIntyre), dimbulb hulk Sean (Jimmy Dunn), and knocked-up Jackie (Kelen Coleman). Sean’s on the verge of moving to Providence for a new job, to the horror of mother Marjorie (Laurie Metcalf)—they’re close enough to watch The Good Wife together, a synergistic joke that is DOA. What keeps him in Boston? A contrived-for-hijinks job as the assistant to his Norman Dale-by-way-of-Southie dad (Jack McGee), the head coach of a local high school basketball team.

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The McCarthys is competent in that lowest-common-denominator, ratings-gobbling CBS mold, the same one that’s propelled comedic dreck like Two and Half Men and morose murder-porn procedurals like Criminal Minds to lengthy runs. Its side-of-a-barn simplicity seems completely anachronistic in an era where the faux-documentary style of Modern Family and sleek direction of shows like Veep and 30 Rock thrive. There’s a lot of lazy gay-panic humor, and nearly all of the jokes in the pilot clang around awkwardly—a recurring gag about Marjorie’s love for Kyra Sedgwick is just bizarre, while a one-liner about former Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni missed by about a season or so.

The cast, at least, tries its best; Ritter has the same audience-pleasing likability that his dad John did, Dunn is appealingly lunky, and Metcalf is always watchable (though she’s much better on HBO’s great Getting On). Coleman, freed from her thankless role on The Newsroom, is one to watch. McIntyre, though, again proves that as an actor, he makes a great New Kids on the Block member. Yikes. By the way, that’s 40% of the New Kids in CBS’s primetime schedule, with Donnie’s Blue Bloods on Friday nights. How long before Danny Wood gets a talk show on the Peacock? Maybe a family sitcom with Jonathan and Joey called Days and Knights?

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Most disappointingly, The McCarthys doesn’t really feel like a Boston show—it’s about as authentically Boston as Fever Pitch. “Dirty Water’’ plays over the opening credits; there’s a lame joke about Rhode Island barely being a state, and a reference to Sean being a two-time Boston Globe basketball all-star. That’s about it. The brightly lit, boring set—probably constructed in L.A. somewhere and looking nothing like a Southie triple-decker—sure doesn’t help. Might we suggest that the next time the networks start to set a show here, they remember three simple rules, lest we be damned with another McCarthys clone?

• GO BEYOND SOUTHIE! Southie’s great, but it’s only one chunk of a very entertaining city. Go to all of the places natives know are awesome. Castle Island. The Harpoon Brewery. Fort Point. Davis, Porter and Inman Squares. Santarpio’s. The Somerville Theater. Sunset, White Horse and Harry’s. Forget about the spots everyone knows and get a little creative. Why not set your sitcom in an up-and-coming area like Somerville and Medford, or in one of the townie-r sections of Cambridge? Wouldn’t it be entertaining to see a show that included trips to Mayflower Poultry on regular occasions? And if you’re looking for comedy, what’s more entertaining than Allston after 10 o’clock on on a weekend night? (How has there never been a show set there?)

• GET THE SPORTS PERSONALITIES Boston sports figures make for fantastic comedic television appearances. Who can forget Nomar’s unforgettable appearance on Saturday Night Live? And how many amazing Cheers moments featured a cameo by a Boston athlete? Kevin McHale should have won an Emmy for his slam on Bill Laimbeer, and Wade Boggs’s appearance is almost as good as his Simpsons cameo. Bring on a sports star from the city, and you’re guaranteed comedy. Might we suggest Brad Marchand and Dustin Pedroia, to start off with?

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• BE AMBITIOUS Most of these Boston-set sitcoms go for a blue-collar, townie feel. That’s fine and noble, but what about a Girls-like comedy set in Boston? It would work, it really, really would. There’s a whole ‘nother Boston out there, one popularized by diversity and intellectualism and young professionals/recent grads trying to find themselves. It’s a vibrant, exciting and confusing place that’s just begging to be serialized—and it’s is a hell of a lot less pretentious than Greenpoint.

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