Like Curb Your Enthusiasm for the Family Channel, The Paul Reiser Show, an autobiographical sitcom that aims to quell the curiosity of anyone out there who’s been wondering what Paul Reiser has been up to for the last decade or so, never really succeeds at being anything other than a fitfully amusing imitation. Concentrating mostly on Reiser’s exploits with his family and a group of circumstantially friendly buddies, the show fails to mesh traditional sitcom hijinks and banter with its punchy meta premise.
The central failing point is that the comedy feels strained and lacks the fluid mania that makes Curb Your Enthusiasm so successful. In its attempts to ape real life, The Paul Reiser Show mostly has Reiser working through fairly every-day issues, relying on the banter between him and his friends for comedic levity. The problem is that while the show guns for realism (or at least a TV-sitcom version of it), the rapport between the characters feels caged. For a show that’s supposed to be mirroring the life of its star, all the rigid sitcom structure does is draw attention to the fact that no one on screen seems all that comfortable. At times, you can actually see the actors struggling for a gag, funny lines come out forced, and everything just feels wooden. Real life shouldn’t look and sound this scripted.
The show is at its best when taking digs at Reiser’s fading celebrity, and putting him in situations rather degrading situations, like as the host of a second-rate game show or having his agent write him off to a client while he’s in the room. Reiser’s also got a good eye for comic talent, evidenced by a supporting cast that boasts Andy Daly, Omid Djalili, and Amy Landecker, and there are several instances in the first few episodes where the show overcomes its awkwardness and provides a few laughs, like a surprisingly funny appearance from Henry Rollins and a near-violent incident at a batting cage that takes advantage of Reiser’s willingness to make an ass of himself.
In a scene that rather perfectly encapsulates The Paul Reiser Show as a whole, Larry David actually drops in for a scene. While no doubt an effort to dodge the inevitable comparisons between their two series, the exchange is actually the most vibrant part of the pilot: David works his acerbic charms and Reiser actually looks like he’s enjoying himself. For that two-minute span, the show erupts with an energy that fizzles away as soon as David makes his exit. As bold as it is for Reiser to acknowledge the similarities between his show and David’s right in the first episode, it conjures up images of the Fonz dropping in on Joanie and Chachi. All David’s appearance accomplishes is reminding us of his own strengths while highlighting the weaknesses of Reiser’s show.