Two And A Half Amends

Hi, my name is Steve, and I’m a compulsive overthinker.

Well, I’ve never quite said that publicly, but I have attended my share of 12-step meetings along the way where I’ve owned up to a few of my shortcomings and addictions.  When I first moved to Los Angeles, I had gained more than a few pounds toward what ultimately became morbid obesity.    One night a few friends and I were sharing a few baskets of fries and I was vainly trying to limit myself by trying to equate my limit to the uniform numbers of famous athletes.  I thought I could stop at Mickey Mantle (7).  Several minutes and a few more sneaked swipes later, I blew past Reggie Jackson (44).  By the time I maniacally was gnawing away at the salt at the bottom, I “triumphantly” exclaimed “WAYNE GRETZKY!!!”.  For the non-hockey fans, he wore #99.

I knew then I had a problem.

So I began to go to Overeaters Anonymous rooms, ever in search of a sponsor.  A veteran I bonded with suggested I seek out a man who had years of recovery and always identified himself as available at every meeting I saw him at.  He was unmistakable; he often wore gaudy blazers and brought his poodle, resplendant in a diamond-studded collar.  He agreed, but was frequently unavailable; turns out he was both an actor and acting coach.  He suggested we meet before the large Alcoholics Anonymous meeting that took place every Friday night at a church in West Hollywood, the legendary “Friday Night Live” where hundreds of “business” people regularly attend, both for recovery and for networking.  The 12th Tradition may insist that (a)nonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our traditions but if you did happen to connect with someone who could lead you to an audition or a paying gig, so much the better.

My “sponsor” turned out to be what is called a “13th stepper”, essentially flaunting his recovery as a magnet for young, attractive aspiring actresses, many self-described bulemics as well as alcoholics.  Often, I’d wait for our check-in to happen, but it rarely did.  But the coffee was free and surprisingly tasty, so I often stuck around at least for fellowship, despite the fact that I fortunately have never had a drinking problem per se.

And as it turns out, one of the men who I’d often enjoy running into, one who ultimately advised me to find another sponsor since, in his words, “he appears more interested in what those girls will want to eat, and it sure looks like he hopes it’s him”, was a comedy writer named Chuck.

I don’t believe I’m breaking that 12th tradition by referencing the person you’ve probably figured out has a last name of Lorre.  He has publicly referenced his own multiple addictions, most notably, per Wikipedia, (i)n 2011, he admitted to drinking heavily in his past, telling Entertainment Weekly (EW) that he “led a dissolute youth until 47.” He was in recovery at the time.  He claims to be clean and sober these days, and more power to him for that.

I never did get to know Lorre personally or professionally beyond those occasional coffees, but I’m been a fan of his work and his integrity ever since.  Many of his shows have recurring themes of main characters who deal with substance abuses, personality disorders or are just downright quirky.  Often, they struggle to merely make ends meet and frequently come from and exist in dysfunctional families.  I’ve binged every episode of THE BIG BANG THEORY and identified strongly with the AA-centric themes of MOM–though, trust me, not even the actresses I saw at Friday Night Live came close to being as stunning as Anna Faris.  I identifed even more strongly with MIKE AND MOLLY, whose lead characters connect at an OA meeting where the 13th step is taken, but fortunately by two equally committed people who stay true to their program (and if you’ve seen what Billy Gardell and Melissa McCarthy both look like now versus what they looked like then, it’s pretty apparent that commitment translated to their real lives, too).

So I look forward to anything new that Lorre has to offer, and this week, for the first time in four years we got a new series which he both created and runs, and the first for his home studio Warner Brothers’ streaming service MAX.   And in BOOKIE, he has the benefit of a strong lead actor in Sebastian Maniscalco, who has risen in popularity via well-received stand-up routines much the way that his idols Jerry Seinfeld and Ray Romano did.  Like his idols did on their long-running 90s sitcoms, he’s received special acclaim for playing himself in this year’s ABOUT MY DAD, where he holds his own with co-star Robert DeNiro.  But in BOOKIE, he’s playing a character with all the trappings of other leads from the Lorre-verse, as USA TODAY’s Marco della Cava described:

Maniscalco slips into the character of Danny, a beleaguered Los Angeles sports bookie, like he might a faded leather jacket.  Chalk that up to a fundamental synergy between the actor and his stand-up persona, blue-collar everymen just trying to do their jobs and provide for their family while enduring endless comic mishaps. It’s “Death of a Salesman” meets “The Three Stooges. “At his core, Sebastian is a likable person, and that’s what I wanted him to bring to Danny in ‘Bookie,'” says Lorre (“The Kominsky Method,” “The Big Bang Theory”). “He is just trying to make a living; he’s not the apex predator.”

But, sadly, as has been the case with other more recent Lorre series such as the two-season, once-retooled B POSITIVE and the one-and-done UNITED STATES OF AL and DISJOINTED, the supporting cast of regulars that Maniscalco has to work with are, at best, passable.  And unlike the flawed heroes who are truly working to conquer their demons that we see in his more enduring CBS series, Maniscalco’s Danny Colavito is an enabler.  The pilot episode opens with Romano in a cameo where, just after being thrown out of his house, he immediately calls Danny to lay down a parlay on the weekend’s NFL games.   And it’s a tee-up to longer and clearly ninth-step inspired reunion with the Big Kahuna of flawed hero sitcom stars, as Della Cava added:

Chuck Lorre and Charlie Sheen have history. And not the good kind.  But the bottom line is, water is now flowing under the bridge. Lorre is once again working with the actor, after a 12-year freeze after Sheen’s messy exit from Lorre’s hit CBS sitcom “Two and a Half Men.” Sheen plays a gambling-addicted version of himself(.)

And as DEADLINE’s Denise Petski added, Sheen’s presence inspired some other harbingers to that long-running Lorre hit:

The episode revisits the poker scene in Lorre’s Two and a Half Men pilot, which reunites Lorre’s Two and a Half Men alums Charlie Sheen and Angus T. Jones.  Danny…heads to Malibu to collect a debt from Sheen, whom he finds at a rehab facility. But Sheen isn’t a patient at the facility; he’s actually hosting a weekly poker game, and one of the players is “Half Man” Angus T. Jones, who played 8-year-old Jake Harper opposite Sheen on Two and a Half Men. The scene also includes the same poker buddies who attended Charlie Harper’s poker game in 2003.

But for nostalgic and as encouraging as that scene is, the fact that’s there’s such a disparity between how that it played and how the scenes that Maniscalco has without them lends credence to the observation which ROGEREBERT.COM’s Brian Tallerico offered up in his review:

Is there much point in reviewing a show off of one episode? Arguably not, especially if it’s a comedy, given how much that genre typically takes a few episodes to find its timing. However, Max’s new show “Bookie” feels like it should be a big deal, so it’s difficult to ignore it because the network behind it is stingy with the selection. It’s the creation of one of the biggest TV producers in history on a major streaming service, with a massive stand-up star as its lead. So why did the company only send one episode for review? Based on the inferior quality of this one, my guess is that they didn’t want us to suffer more this holiday season.

And at this point in the lifecycles of both MAX and Lorre, this needs to be better.  Lorre gave an emotional interview to the Left Angeles TIMES’ Yvonne Villereal where he confesses some of the personal angst he’s feeling these days:

“The thing that first resonated with me about bookmaking is how it’s become a sort of anachronism. An age old profession threatened by technology and legalization. I couldn’t help feeling that there was a parallel with being a sitcom writer.”

But with a mere four-week scheduling arc, and just eight half-hour-ish episodes in this order, unless, much as HARRY AND MEGHAN inspired Netflix viewers who were algorithmically drawn into a rabbit hole of SUITS episodes the MAX audience rediscovers the 262 TWO AND A HALF MEN episodes which Yosemite Zas still has left up on the platform so as to make the total impact of the Lorre-verse significant enough to truly matter, anything less than a home run severly diminishes the chances that this will see the light of day for a second season.

Having seen the second episode myself, I must grudgingly concur with Tallerico’s opinion.  His is a bit more extreme than others’; ironically, a review from Ebert’s former colleague and paper penned by Richard Roeper is a tad more optimistic.  But without the talents of Sheen to challenge and uplift Maniscalco, it’s at best mediocre, IMO.  The ROTTEN TOMATOES’ average audience score to date is a tepid 78, so it appears the first adopters are closer to Tallerico’s assessment, let alone mine– at least for now.

Two and a half stars, one might say.  But, in this world, two and half’s meh.

And as they say in those rooms, half-measures avail us nothing.

Until next time…



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