Single-camera, non laugh-track comedies– like HBO’s think Curb YourEnthusiasm or NBC’s 30 Rock.–have often been critical, if not commercial, successes. TBS’ latest entry into the field, 10 Items or Less, is likely to be neither.
The pilot’s premise – a successful businessman moves from New York City back to his native Ohio to take over the family grocery store after his father passes away – is a played-out plot set in the most familiar of venues which, in most cases, would make for a broadly accessible comedy.
But while the new series has the old auspices of Arrested Development and TheOffice, 10 Items offers neither the corporate satire nor the distinctly drawn characters that make it a show worth returning to on a weekly basis.
Instead, like so many struggling sitcoms, it lacks the universal ring of truth that makes mocking the human condition the crux of comedy. On top of that, it also doesn’t possess the premise, the personalities or the punch lines necessary to overcome that glaring deficiency. 10 Items is just fundamentally not funny.
Realizing that the pipeline of off-network sitcoms is drying up, TBS’ smart strategy is to create its own shows, controlling the content and the cash. But, as with the networks, it’s not as easy as it looks.
The characters include Leslie Pool (John Lehr) , a boss who is truly clueless. This depiction undermines Pool's comedic credibility, as no viewer will believe he made it in the Big Apple, let alone the Buckeye state. As the star, creator and executive producer of 10 Items, John Lehr gamely tries to surround Pool with comic foils that have gone off the deep end, but makes everyone so odd that none are believable. It’s hard to find someone to root for—or against.
While TBS’ other original sitcom, My Boys, had the momentum of positive press, it would charitable to say 10 Items got a mixed response from TV reviewers. Variety’s Brian Lowry wrote that it “labors too hard at being clever and occasionally teeters into shrill mode.”
The audience for 10 Items is smaller as well, partly due to its later time period but mostly due to the show itself, which fails to tap into widespread career woes.
Indeed, in a Dilbert world, there’s always room for subversive sitcoms about the workplace. But TBS will have to work harder, as viewers are unlikely to buy into the stilted sitcom that is 10 Items or Less.
By John Rash