I liked TVLand’s Hot in Cleveland last summer. It was a little corny, but felt like so many other classic sitcoms on the network, that it fit right in. Nice job to the network for making a new series that feels old, but in a good way. Last night was the second season premiere, and things have only improved during the break. The writing is tighter, the cast is more confident in their characters, and the humor got a little racier. Now if only they’d get rid of, or at least turn down considerably, that annoying laugh track!
Ok, so the laugh track is part of the charm. But when Mary Tyler Moore took the stage in her much-hyped guest star turn at the onset of the episode, it was so loud that it was distracting! I get the audience’s reaction; every MTM line was solid gold, especially the immortal “You’ve got spunk. I can’t stand spunk.”, which was just one of the references to The Mary Tyler Moore Show, which Betty White also starred with her in. But I wanted to enjoy it for myself. Laugh track aside, MTM’s stint was every bit as good as I expected it to be, better even, and I found myself wishing she’d done more than those few moments at the beginning. Repeat, anyone?
Mary aside, the show also showed wisdom by bringing back neighbor Rick (Wayne Knight, Seinfeld). In this first episode, Rick proposes to Joy (Jane Leeves) so that she can get a green card and stay in the U.S. She blows him off, but after joining Elka (Betty White) in prison, sadly, after MTM is released, Joy gets a bit more desperate. Rick anonymously bails them out, though he does make sure Joy finds out who is to thank, and she is soon on her knees asking for his hand in marriage, an arc that should keep Knight coming back for awhile.
I was surprised at how risque some of the humor was this week, and not just Joy on her knees. The show does deal with sex plenty, that was always one of its facets, but in “Free Elka”, this week’s premiere, there certainly seemed to be more of than usual. Rick kept talking about his balls. Elka and Rick admit to an affair, which provides several punchlines. Really, anytime Rick was around, lots and lots of sex talk. Not that I’m complaining.
Of course, not all of the jokes were of the off-color variety. I laughed quite a bit at poor Pete (David Starzyk), who kept trying to tell Melanie (Valerie Bertinelli) that he loves her, too, as she said to him in last summer’s finale. Unfortunately, with Pete frequently arresting Melanie’s friends, she doesn’t have much patience for him. I found the situation bizarrely amusing. It seems Pete is being set up to stay around for a bit, so I’m glad they worked it out when Pete finally accepted his girlfriend’s law-breaking friends, and began to let their behavior slide. I just hope he doesn’t lose his job.
I was also pleased to see Elka show some real compassion. I worship Betty White, and have before it became recently trendy again, but Elka is often portrayed fairly mean-spirited, especially towards Joy, whom she doesn’t care for. This week, Elka and Joy used their time behind bars to bond, rather than trade barbs. It was a welcome step towards cementing the friendship of the four central women, as Elka is definitely part of their group by this point.
Victoria (Wendie Malick) was the lone actress who wasn’t really featured as much this week. That’s OK; she’ll surely get her turn. The series is generally pretty balanced to its four stars, all of which are, in fact, stars. Victoria was around, she just didn’t have a rich solo story. I guess with everything else going on, it was just Victoria’s turn to take a breather.
Hot in Cleveland airs on TVLand Wenesday nights at 10 p.m.