Joel Larsen is a 34-year-old paper salesman with thinning hair and a generally lonely and miserable life. His sister, Cheryl, is just out of rehab and his father has come close to burning down their childhood home in a near-tragic Wonder Bread toasting accident. Already, this sounds like the sure-fire formula for a new hit series, but it doesn’t stop there. When Joel arrives at the scene, he finds Cheryl playing with a defibrillator at the back of an ambulance parked in the driveway. She puts the pads on Joel’s head, joking that it might “jump start (his) hair” and accidentally electrocutes him. “Whoa … it was on?”
You might ask yourself the same question about your television set after watching “Do Over,” a new comedy on the WB network. Although the show is not completely devoid of content, it relies so heavily on previously used jokes and premises that you might find yourself feeling like you’ve seen and heard it all before. Something must have gone wrong somewhere, because the nostalgia that “Do Over” is intended to evoke is probably not nostalgia for the movies and TV shows from which its gags and central plot line were lifted.
It turns out that our hero, Joel, was transported via electrocution into 1981, and back into his body as a 14-year-old. Given the opportunity to relive his high school years, Joel takes it upon himself to fix his parents’ failing marriage, become cool and popular, and get the attention of “that hot chick” who would never used to give him the time of day. The beginnings of these goals are already in place by the end of the series premiere as Joel first gives his dad relationship advice, then becomes vice president of his school using his supernatural, 34-year-old powers of persuasion and finally gets noticed by his crush – all in a day’s work! Taking that into account, questions around where this series will go from here are bound to arise.
But enough about plot. The real questions is: Is “Do Over” funny? The answer is: at times, yes. There is a general silliness to the show that ensures that the ridiculous premise is never taken too seriously, and a few solid characters are particularly funny, if not original. The quirky dad gets his share of chuckles, though he seems to have come straight out of “Malcolm in the Middle” with his constant arguing and strange predilection toward talking to the family while taking bubble baths. Joel’s best friend, Pat, is the one character who knows his secret, creating a situation that might be described as the opposite of the Tom Hanks movie, “Big.” Pat’s wanna-be-a-punk-even-though-I’m-a-suburban-kid-who-supports-the-Republican-party character provides a few good laughs, even if Josh Wise’s delivery falls flat at times. And Penn Badgley’s performance as Joel should not go unmentioned, as he does manage to create a very likable lead character.
Even if they were derivative, the episode had its share of good moments. In one scene, Joel’s mom “invents” the coffeehouse long before the rise of chains like Starbucks, echoing a number of jokes from “The Wedding Singer.” A scene where Joel finds the courage to give a rousing speech at his school election assembly is reminiscent of many scenes out of the “Back to the Future” trilogy. Even more noticeable is the 34-year-old Joel’s narration throughout the episode, which instantly calls to mind “The Wonder Years,” only with the addition of a few decades and a completely fantastic premise.
All in all, “Do Over” should prove to be a moderately entertaining show as the season progresses, but a groundbreaking series it most definitely is not. At the end of the first episode, Joel narrates, “The ’80s might not be so bad this time around.” Such is the case with “Do Over.” Nevertheless, the ideas behind the show were still better the first time around.