Following in the footsteps of “Malcolm in the
Middle” and the critically acclaimed “Arrested
Development,” the FOX network has produced another program
about strange families that put the “fun” in
dysfunctional. “Cracking Up” has the strong cast and
premise to create another comedic gem, but the laughs are
unfortunately few and far between.

Laura Wong
This is me in a nutshell. Help! (Courtesy of FOX)

Ben Baxter (Jason Schwartzman, “Rushmore”) is a
psychology student who moves into a lavish Beverly Hills house to
counsel young Tanner Shackelton (Bret Loehr). Oddly enough, Tanner
is the sanest member of his family, which is good news for Ben, as
he now must deal with the boy’s crazy father (Christopher
McDonald, “Happy Gilmore”) and an unstable mother
(Molly Shannon, “Saturday Night Live). Tanner’s
siblings are also a handful, as an obsessive-compulsive jock named
Preston (Jake Sandvig) and a ditzy cheerleader named Chloe (Caitlin
Wachs) give Ben plenty of subjects to study.

In the first few episodes, Ben adjusts to the family and then
attempts to convince the parents to give their kids “the
talk.” Usually with scenarios such as these, the laughs would
never stop. Unfortunately, the jokes rely on topics such as sex and
circumcision, and the truly funny actions and punch lines do not
happen nearly enough.

The chemistry between the parents is there, as their happy
husband-and-wife banter has all the comedy elements necessary, but
fails to deliver. Preston’s neurotic jock persona is
refreshing and Ben is certainly a character that audiences can
enjoy, but the parents — one of the reasons “Malcolm in
the Middle” is so good — just fall flat, through no
fault of Shannon and McDonald.

“Cracking Up” is a prime example of trying to
capitalize on a formula that has worked in the past. Most of the
time, the follow-up program fails to capture the magic of the
original, and that is exactly the case here. Although the premise
is unique and some characters are intriguing, the show is certainly
not all it is cracked up to be.

 

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

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