Monday, May 14, 2007

Honking Box Review: Joey

Writing about Joey long after it's been given the chop in the States makes this Honking Box entry something of an epitaph. But with the second series finally commanding an airing on Five, we’re donning our black tie and comedy widow veil to examine closer…

Six episodes in, and it’s actually beginning to dither already. Sure, the first series was shakier than Judy Finnegan sat atop an Indesit in the throes of a particularly violent spin cycle, but at least it felt like there was a bit of enthusiasm behind it.

While comparing it to Friends perhaps isn't hugely fair, we're going to do it anyway. C’mon, merciless is fun. The climax to the first series of Friends saw Rachel at the airport ready to reveal her feelings to Ross, blissfully ignorant that he was on the other side of the Arrivals gate with Julie. The series cliffhanger between the first and second season of Joey saw Joey and Alex about to shag. Well, that'll bring the viewers back, eh?

The high expectations of Friends’ first cliffhanger were seen through exceptionally well. The superb timing, the cringe-inducingly awkward dialogue, the brilliantly-executed slapstick… it was merely the tip of the iceberg in what became one of Friends' greatest storylines. Joey, on the other hand, launched Series Two with a diluted feeling of clich├ęd morning-after embarrassment. Hardly likely to warrant any form of watercooler dialogue, let alone an Emmy, now is it?

Still, the characters remain hugely likeable - Gina, by far and away, is the star of the show, a sentiment carried over into Series Two with ease. Meanwhile, Alex, having spent the first series floundering as an uncomfortable presence of pointlessness channelling equal parts Rachel and Monica, is finally coming into her own as a needy singleton who fits effectively into the fold. All futile, of course, but credit where credit’s due.

Despite being a simple, easy-to-swallow light-hearted comedy, it feels uncannily like wandering through an infirmary. It has the stench of despair wafting through it, perhaps as a result of the guillotine being readied at the time of production - a similar feeling invoked when watching Lisa Kudrow's unspeakably brilliant The Comeback, though to a significantly lesser extent. Perhaps that's because, unlike Joey, they were ignorant of their imminent doom at the time. Or, more likely, because it's a far superior piece of television, but that’s neither here nor there.

Perhaps taking Joey out of the over-comfortable setting of Friends wasn’t something the public were going to warm to so soon after its end, but a bit more faith on the part of NBC would have answered whether that could change. On the evidence of recent episodes, it could well have done. But, once again, faceless TV bosses would rather watch a bar graph relating to inward-flooding revenue than anything resembling decent programming.

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