Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Dream of the '90s Is Alive On Basic Cable: Melissa & Joey

The dream of the '90s is indeed alive--but on basic cable, not in Portland.

Networks like TV Land, Nickelodeon and the Disney Channel have found success with the format by drawing on nostalgia to attract viewers.  TV Land in particular has hit upon the winning formula of sticking established sitcom veterans together with stock plots, resulting in surprise hits such as Hot in Cleveland and Happily Divorced.

Until recently, ABC Family largely traded in preteen drama, and while that's still their favored direction, they've also struck gold with their own multi-camera sitcom success story.  The network has joined its corporate cousin The Disney Channel, as well as Nickelodeon, in hitting the Jeff Franklin/Miller-Boyett family sitcom well.  But like TV Land, they've also taken two old professionals and put them together: in this case, Melissa Joan Hart (who also produces) and Joey Lawrence.  

Since its inception, Melissa & Joey has been a solid performer for the network, but it's also become the most dependable '90s nostalgia rush for kids of our vintage.  I've watched and enjoyed it--to my great surprise--so it seemed like a no-brainer that T.J. has also seen it.

To my even greater surprise, I was wrong.  Upon my recommendation, he gave it a try...

Frankie assumed I had already been watching the ABC Family sitcom Melissa & Joey because, a) I enjoy most things 90s and these were two of the iconic figures of the lame pop culture of the decade, b) I love the traditional family sitcom and c) I am corny as hell.

I had not been watching even though I am no stranger to ABC Family. There are reruns of such '90s classics like Full House and Boy Meets World along with some newer favorites, Gilmore Girls and yes, the Amanda Bynes and Jennie Garth masterpiece of a sitcom, What I Like About You. But really, what better '90s topic to write about than the long-awaiting collaboration of Clarissa Darling and Joey Russo? Whoa!

Melissa Joan Hart, Joey Lawrence

Melissa Joan Hart first got in our consciousness with the Nickelodeon favorite, Clarissa Explains It All. Joey Lawrence became a fixture and star during NBC’s Blossom. I think Hart had a much more successful post-Clarissa run than Lawrence’s post Blossom run, with Sabrina, The Teenage Witch on ABC, and roles in movies like Can’t Hardly Wait and Drive Me Crazy. The two first joined forces in 2009 for a made for ABC Family movie called My Fake Fiance
In a bizarre twist, (bizarre to me, anyway), it became a smash hit, drawing in 3.6 million viewers for the premiere and 2.8 million for the encore. Those numbers may or may not sound impressive to you but if you break it down, it became the number one TV movie for women 18-34 and number one cable movie in women 18-49 for the entire 2008-09 TV season. Again, bizarre to me, but I’m not a woman in that age range so who am I to judge?

Melissa Joan Hear

There’s no doubt that ABC Family execs were thinking they could turn success into $ucce$$. The electricity of Clarissa Darling and Joey Russo led to the 2010 debut of Melissa & Joey

Melissa & Joey is Who’s The Boss-esque. Hart plays Melissa “Mel” Burke, a councilwoman. Her dad was a senator. A family scandal forces her to care for her niece and nephew. She needs help, so she hires Joe Longo, played of course by Joey Lawrence, as a “manny” (male version of a nanny), who loses everything in a ponzi scheme making him bankrupt, forcing him to get a job as “manny” in some kind of homage to Tony Danza.


I thought I would dabble with the pilot episode. I’m liking the humor, not too ABC Family-esque. An example is Lennox, Burke’s niece, gets in trouble in school for using her principal’s name inappropriately in a poem. (Principal’s name is Mrs. Lunt. You do the math.) Mel is trying to balance it all, work, her family legacy, possibly dating again, all while caring for her niece and nephew while their parents, Mel’s sister and brother-in-law, are in federal prison. Her assistant, Rhonda, recommends she gets help and hire a nanny. Joe shows up the night of Mel’s first date in a long time to apologize, but Melissa’s crisis of the day forces her to cancel and talk to her niece, meaning the date and Joe are kicked out of the house. Next day, Joe shows up again, asking for a job in city government but there’s a hire freeze. He finds out about the nanny gig, Melissa assumes a woman will go for and get the job and Joe comes back with, “Only vaginal Americans need apply?”

I’m actually digging this so far. Joey...I mean Joe, mentions the time he worked with youths right after college, “I was Charles ‘freakin’ in Charge.” (I compared this to Who’s the Boss earlier but completely forgot about parallels to Charles in Charge!!) Melissa comes after her meeting and Joe is there with the laundry and handling her delicates. She’s all set to interview another candidate but Joe’s showing he can handle these kids. He talks Lennox off the roof (don’t worry she wasn’t gonna jump.) and she goes to school to meet her aunt and apologize to the unfortunately named Mrs. Lunt. Joe not only helps Ryder, the other kid, shoot hoops and do a paper but he has dinner all set. We learn there really was no youth center and Joe is just a natural when it comes to dealing with the kids. “Maybe my mere presence in this household, is sort of seamlessly pulling this whole thing together,” Joe said. Mel reconsiders and hires him and we now have a series.

Melissa Joan Hart, Joey Lawrence

Wow, okay Frankie, I’ll give you credit where it’s due. This show really is up my alley. It’s more of the traditional, studio-audience, sitcom. The humor isn’t all PG cheese, but has a slight edge to it. And the chemistry between Clarissa and Joey is solid. The 90s may be over, but it’s living just a tad through this show. I think I’ll be hitting this show up on Netflix a little bit more.

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