Although the writers are channeling legendary film critic Pauline Kael with the title of the second season’s premiere episode of CBS’s successful ‘90s series Dave’s World with “I Lost It At the Movies", it’s the young character of Tommy Barry (Zane Carney) who throws down an even more challenging gauntlet by warning, “Dad, don’t try to be funny.”
Predictably nervous about his first date (or pseudo group date as far as the middle school equivalent goes) to take a girl he likes to The Flintstones, Tommy’s challenge wouldn’t normally be a big deal in avoiding embarrassment… that is if his father wasn’t Pulitzer Prize-winning humorist Dave Barry (played in the show by Night Court’s Harry Anderson). Telling Dave Barry not to be funny is like telling Meryl Streep not to give a good performance — even in the unspeakably horrid Mamma Mia!, the girl simply can’t help it and neither can the boy or at least the man-child personified in executive producer Jonathan Axelrod and Fred Barron’s adaptation of Barry’s beloved books Dave Barry’s Greatest Hits and Dave Barry Turns 40.
As a childhood fan who religiously read each and every Dave Barry book I could get my hands on until - with the invention of the Internet - I was able to better track them down on The Miami Herald website, Dave’s World as a series was one I especially enjoyed when I was young. Seeing it again however — now in this slim-packaged three-disc set from CBS DVD and Paramount Home Entertainment — I realize just how much the show has aged and how the typically uninspired sitcom plots like “throw a bad party” (a la Mary Tyler Moore), or “quick, the kid’s pet died, let’s get a replacement one” or “the wacky sister-in-law is the houseguest that never leaves” had in actuality very little to do with Dave Barry’s column in real life.
Yes, he wrote jokes about scatological topics and plenty of beer throughout and the books are filled with some suitably juvenile entries, but Dave’s World took some of the best written comedy fodder of the last decade and sadly turned it into a pleasant if forgettable concoction that makes it in retrospect seem like TV’s equivalent of tofu (in that it tastes like nothing but the rubbery texture just doesn’t quite sit right).
This isn’t to say the show doesn’t have its moments and ironically the predictable plots I cited actually do provide fodder for some of season two’s best episodes, most notably in the dinner party where dates are dumped, wine goes bad, chicken cooks forever and everyone is out of the house by 8:25 or when the French exchange student mistakes the Barry’s adorable youngest son's (Andrew Ductoe) pet rabbit for dinner which makes Dave’s wife Beth (DeLane Matthews) reveal her Hannibal Lecter side when she can’t stop eating it anyway.