Season 1 | Episode 1 | “Pilot” | Aired June 4, 2014
TV Land is venturing out of its normal programming with tonight’s Jennifer Falls, and I, for one, think they got it right. Jamie Pressly plays clever, although tightly wound, Jennifer Doyle, an on-the-way-down former executive who must return home, teenage daughter in tow, to live with her mother and work in her brother’s sports bar.
As the episode opens, Jeffrey Tambor makes a cameo as her clueless, mostly sexist boss, Dan, who fires her for being too aggressive and too cocky — qualities that, as Jennifer points out, would get a man promoted. Dan scolds her for mean comments such as those and accuses her of having a “personality problem.” Tambor’s cameo is one of the tiny surprises this pilot offers, and I am giddy to see both George and Lucille Bluth together again in the same half-hour, even if it’s unclear if he’ll return.
Dejected and at rock bottom, Jennifer directly addresses the audience, Modern Family–style, in a mini-monologue. She reveals that her search for a new job is not going well because blackballing is a real thing, since “all the men in my industry find me terrifying, while the women find me inspiring … and terrifying.” This sets up the gender themes that will inevitably surface through the arc of the season, and establishes Jennifer as the angry yet put-upon heroine we’re supposed to root for, but definitely not be afraid of.
As Jennifer and her daughter, Gretchen (Dylan Gellula), load the U-Haul with all their belongings, Gretchen asks her mother if she is going to be drunk the whole time. Jennifer replies, “It’s looking that way, sweetie.” This gives us a little insight into the relationship with Jennifer’s mother, Maggie (Jessica Walter), at whom Jennifer can be heard yelling, “You’re not listening to me, Mother,” over and over in the same scene. It looks like Jennifer is in for it with her mother, although we don’t get a real sense of that in this first episode.
Jennifer and Gretchen arrive home to a party given by Maggie, complete with a mariachi band, that allows us to meet others in Jennifer’s family: the perky, passive aggressive sister-in-law Stephanie (Nora Kirkpatrick), who seems to enjoy Jennifer’s new circumstances a little too much, and the hen-pecked brother, Wayne, played by Ethan Suplee, who offers her a job at his bar. Suplee could make me laugh by reading the phone book, and he and Pressly slip into a familiarity that makes me miss my beloved My Name is Earl. (He is brilliant in that show. Netflix it NOW!)
Forced to work in Wayne’s sports bar and wear a shrunken, sexy referee costume, Jennifer faces her own feelings of failure and disappointment. Stephanie, who obviously runs the show, continues to grind Jennifer’s nose in her shortfalls, but does so through a clenched smile and saccharine tone, so her asshole vibe comes dressed in pearls (like that makes it any better). Like Jennifer, I would like to do physical violence to Stephanie, but some of the funniest moments come from scenes with these two ladies, especially when you can see Jaime Pressly vibrate with restraint as she plays Jennifer holding back.
As Jennifer tries to find her footing in her new job, she runs into her childhood friend Dina, the criminally underused Missi Pyle, who is recently divorced, is possibly a lesbian and can be funny without saying a word. Dina isn’t as happy to see Jennifer as Jennifer expected. Having gained so much success made Jennifer forget about her former relationships and leave Dina without her support when she needed it. She was a crappy friend to Dina, and Dina has been angry about it all this time.
They make up, but not before Jennifer launches herself onto Dina’s hood, and only after Stephanie interrupts their talk to remind Jennifer about bar policy: “We don’t usually take breaks so soon after arriving … late. And in the parking lot. And in a friend’s car. Don’t worry, you’ll get this.”
There are some pretty funny moments that fly by, almost under the radar — Maggie’s assistant lying to Jennifer about her mother not being available “as a coping mechanism,” the running joke about Maggie not listening to Jennifer, and the joke about Jennifer’s boobs made me laugh at first, but became funnier as I thought about them after.
It is so hard to judge a show just on its pilot, but this one has potential. As TV Land reaches out to younger viewers, it gives the show a little latitude to work with material that is slightly edgier, and that is where Jaime Pressly thrives.
While the show has some problems (ill-timed fart jokes, breaking the pacing while Jennifer addresses the audience, the single-mother statistics), it has my attention, and I’m looking forward to writing about it every week.
What do you think about Jennifer Falls? Tweet me your favorite moments.
Jennifer Falls, rated TV-PG, airs Wednesdays at 10:30/9:30 C on TV Land.