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Monday, December 14, 2015

'Grace Under Fire' S1 DVD: Chuck Lorre Roseanne/Jeff Foxworthy Mash-up

The Visual Entertainment complete-series DVD set of the '90s ABC sitcom "Grace Under Fire" (as well as the Visual complete series set of the '80s Aaron Spelling drama "Hotel") is an even better early Christmas present than anticipated. "Grace" illustrates the joy of DVDs in the form of liking a show even better the second time around than on the first on-air showings. (S1 of "Hotel," which personally is thought of as starring Mrs. Hinkley and Mr. Streisand because of stars Connie Selleca and James Brolin, is slated for an early January 2106 review.)

As an aside, great anticipation regarding 2016 Visual releases of the '70s sitcom "Angie," the awesome early 2000s scifi "Jake 2.0," and many other shows from the island of misfit series creates good hope that "Grace" and "Hotel" are the beginning of a beautiful friendship with Visual. Reviews of the upcoming releases and of seasons of "Grace" and "Hotel" will run throughout 2016.

"Grace" is a prime example of the standup-oriented sitcoms of the mid-80s through the '90s. Although "Seinfeld" arguably is the most successful effort to give a comedy club and "Tonight Show" favorite a series, "Grace" star Brett Butler and many others also succeed in presenting their voices in weekly 30-minute comedies. ABC siblings of Butler include Roseanne Barr, Margaret Cho, Tim Allen, and a pre-dancing Ellen DeGeneres.

"Grace" was enjoyed well enough during its network run but was never appointment TV. Further, the level of interest in the show was never high enough to watch it in syndication. Revisiting it on DVD shows what was missed in not watching it more 20 years ago.

Ironically named titular Southern-fried recently divorced mother of two young kids and a baby Grace Kelly is very much in line with the hard-luck (and living) stand-up persona of Butler.

The strong blue-collar vibe of "Grace" reflects the work of this inaugural show from creator Chuck Lorre, whose earlier work includes writing "Roseanne" episodes, and justifies thinking of "Grace" as "Roseanne 2.0." The modest houses in which the Kelly gang and the Conner clan reside are very similar, and oil refinery worker Grace has a comparable job to early seasons plastics factory worker Roseanne in her series. (One difference is the supervisor of Grace is not nearly attractive as "Roseanne" boss portrayor George Clooney.)

Next-door neighbor/long-time friend Nadine fills the same role of "Trixie" to Grace's "Alice" in the same manner as sister Jackie on "Roseanne." "Roseanne" star John Goodman making a cameo appearance in the opening minutes of the "Grace" pilot provides an indirect link between the shows.

Lorre adds in an element of standup-turned-sitcom star Jeff "You Might Be a Redneck If" Foxworthy by making the ex-husband Alabama-native Butler be a stereotypical heavy-drinking, poorly educated and plain ole stupid, dynamite fishing, deadbeat dad, etc hillbilly. The combination of these characters provides copious opportunities for jokes about cousin loving, hunting, and other staples of humor at the expense of rural Southerners. One of the best has Grace commenting that all six year-old girls loving housework is what Southern men love marrying them.

Another connection with "Roseanne" exists regarding the overall style of "Grace." Barr states in an interview in the period before her show premieres that there are only 10 basic sitcom plots and goes onto describe them. "Grace" largely follows this tried-and-true formula but adds enough twists and edge to keep things entertaining. The likely difficulty 20 years ago was that so many similar voices diluted it.

An early episode in which Grace has the blind date from Hell keeps things fresh by having guy pal Russell, played by "SCTV" vet. Dave Thomas, along with his own mismatched miss. Grace making several witty sarcastic remarks that go over the head of her comically cheap date and Grace and Russell later almost literally bumping heads in their attempts to escape their companions is very amusing.

Another memorable early episode has Grace ending up at a frat party during a rare night free from her children. A hilarious early scene has Grace trying to convince some of the boys that she is a mess only to have that provide a basis for bonding, Near hilarity ensues when our gals school the boys on many levels.

We further get wonderfully dark takes on toxic babysitters. One of the best has Grace ask an apparently stoned sitter if he has any experience watching kids and having him respond "only from my car."

Great prophetic Clinton humor includes a character commenting that Bill and Hillary have a happy marriage and Grace responding "give it time."

Seeing this amusing but relatively clean show come from current uber-raunchmaster Lorre is a nice surprise. It shows that he does not have to resort to cheap crass and utterly tasteless sex and drug jokes to get a laugh.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Grace" is encouraged to email me. You can also connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy,