Before I get into it, fear not of spoilers. I have no interest in spoiling the show if you have not seen it, as I doubt all that many have.
Sitcoms are a strange beast for a cinema lover to enjoy. The central problem is that they are so obviously staged and plotted. You see the central location(s) of the sitcom almost always from one direction, there’s often a general format to the plot, and every few seconds they pause to let the studio audience laugh. Yet – they can be enjoyable, sometimes as enjoyable as the most profound, award-winning dramas. They can also be horrendous.
Mad About You finds a comfortable spot towards the middle-top (good) part of the spectrum.
What it does have, and what any sitcom with a hope of success must have, is charisma between it’s principals. Paul Reiser (as Paul) and Helen Hunt (as Jamie) work well together in the main spots, and are able to bounce comedy and entertain romance without any sense of awkwardness throughout. The same, in lesser doses, applies for the supporting cast.
The premise of the show is extremely simple – that premise being the marriage between Jamie and Paul from year 1 onwards. The lead characters arise out of Paul Reiser’s unique brand of observational comedy, and Helen Hunt’s patented sensitivity. Smart move, as you can bank on these two elements almost until the end of time. The show is built entirely on the little interactions and misunderstandings in their marriage, observed by Paul, bounced off Helen, and repeat. This generally works, because the observations are good, and Reiser and Hunt are fine actors (well, Reiser makes up the gap with good quips).
Sadly though, that’s sometimes not quite enough. We see all the typical sitcom formula plots here, and many which wish they were that clever but fall short. There are often cases where the episode seems to end before it’s even started – because they never really had anything large to say.
But there are upsides to this approach. The lack of “zany” activity in the individual episodes means you can lower the rate of flanderization in the leads, and put off the inevitable “jumping off the shark” as long as possible. This show managed to maintain a consistently “good” level of quality for about 5 seasons, beginning to trail down from the sixth and ending around “okay” in the final season. That’s a far better average than most sitcoms can boast (with the enormous amount of zaniness in How I Met Your Mother for example, I’d say that at Season 5 it was just above the “okay” level, by Season 8 it was just torturous progression towards some closure). But it never really hits any truly high notes either. There were some critical moments of relationship strain about 2/3’s in, but they never truly went critical. This show knows it can’t afford to stray too far, and we know it too.
All in all, I’ll say I liked this show. I don’t at all regret watching it, but at the same time, it’s not something I’m particularly eager to revisit. It’s a good show to put on in the background while you surf the web, play a game, or code – and that’s a good and surprisingly rare class of show to be in, so props. I don’t want to undersell the dynamite dynamic between Reiser and Hunt though – they make such a sincere onscreen couple. If there is one thing the show really has in spades, it’s tenderness.
Oh, and the show started breaking the third wall during the credits sequence, which was a nice touch.