CBS’ Worst Week proves to be the Best

Things can’t get any worse than showing up at your girlfriend’s parent’s house in the middle of the night wearing a diaper made of trash bags and needing money to pay your cab fare.
Sam (Kyle Bornheimer) in his trash bag diaper with girlfriend, Melanie Clayton (Erinn Hayes, left) and Mel’s conservative mother, Angela (Nancy Lenehan) on “Worst Week” airing at 9:30 p.m. Mondays on CBS. Photo: Chris Haston/NBC Universal. ©2008 CBS BROADCASTING INC,

Scratch that. It does get worse for Sam and only funnier for those watching his crazy antics in this almost flawless pilot. The only problem with this first episode is the fear that the producers can never quite come up with other episodes to compare with this first one out of the gate.

CBS has given this nimble comedy series a perfect spot on the schedule at 9:30 p.m. Monday right after the hilarious testosterone filled “Two and a Half Men.” The humor sensibilities of these two series should mesh perfectly for viewers.

From the time we first meet Sam (Kyle Bornheimer), the laughs come fast and furious. Don’t look for the typical sitcom style of joke after joke. The slapstick humor can melt anyone into a laughing puddle if you’re the kind of person who loves the kind of humor that makes you almost want to cover your eyes while the situation unfolds or thinks someone taking a tumble is the highest form of comedy.

And tumble he does. Sam takes more falls than a stuntman as he bumbles along in his quest.
Sam’s a magazine editor who has a pathological urge to please his beautiful girlfriend Melanie’s upper class parents. They, in turn, can barely acknowledge him as being any more than just a friend to their beloved Mel (Erinn Hayes). Kyle Bornheimer plays Sam with a sweetness that makes his horrific blunders just that much harder to watch.

The series is based on the brilliant British comedy by the same title and many of the situations have been lifted directly from the two season-and-a-special series. All told, the Brit version lasted for a total of 14 episodes in two seasons, capped by a triple episode Worst Christmas special.

It’s from the latter that the American version has harvested most of the laughs. In the British version the first week revolves around the wedding and the second around the birth of their child. In the American version, we know that Sam has caused some major damage when he last visited Mel’s parents, including doing something horrible to their electric system in the house.

Now, Sam’s back to spend a week in their upscale world as the family celebrates dad Dick’s birthday. Dick (Kurtwood Smith) lives up to his name. He’s a stern, steely man who makes no effort to disguise his distaste for Sam. Mel’s mom Angela (Nancy Lineham) embodies her angelic name, yet even Angela can’t quite keep it together around Sam once he becomes the catalyst for chaos around the house.

But the stakes are high for Sam. He and Melanie haven’t yet wed, but they have become engaged. And they are expecting their first child in about eight months. The clock is ticking for Sam as he tries to make his future in-laws and the grandparents of his baby come to accept and perhaps even like him.

As for Sam, his all-consuming passion to please digs him into holes that just keep getting bigger and bigger.

Producer Matt Tarses cops to taking a lot of the wacky situations in the British version and putting the best bits into his Americanized version. But there are some strong differences between the two.

“I think one of the distinctions between this show and the British show for me was that I felt like in the British show there were times when the wife was as mad at the lead character as anyone else,” Tarses told TV writers in July. “And in those moments, I kind of got mad. I checked out on that guy myself. I kind of felt like if she doesn’t like him — and she was the last one who liked him — then why should I bother liking him?”

Tarses said he wanted to make sure that Mel was always on Sam’s side in his version of the series.
It’s been difficult for American producers to capitalize on good British shows, but Greg Daniels showed with “The Office” that the American version can come into its own under the right cast and crew. If the producers of “Worst Week” can keep working at the same level we see in the pilot, this could well become a legendary series.

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