Thursday, August 28, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

'Surviving Jack': A crusty TV dad, warm inside

Christopher Meloni (right) is deliciously derisive as Jack Dunlevy, father of 16-year-old high school freshman Frankie (Connor Buckley), in "Surviving Jack."
Christopher Meloni (right) is deliciously derisive as Jack Dunlevy, father of 16-year-old high school freshman Frankie (Connor Buckley), in "Surviving Jack."
Christopher Meloni (right) is deliciously derisive as Jack Dunlevy, father of 16-year-old high school freshman Frankie (Connor Buckley), in "Surviving Jack." Gallery: 'Surviving Jack': A crusty TV dad, warm inside

Justin Halpern's father is a gold mine. His outrageous, often profane observations formed the basis of Halpern's popular Twitter feed, which turned into a best-selling book and, eventually, the 2011 CBS sitcom $#*! My Dad Says, starring William Shatner.

His second book, the comic memoir I Suck At Girls, has been adapted by Fox as Surviving Jack (Thursday at 9:30 p.m.). This time, Halpern's TV dad is played by Christopher Meloni (Law & Order: SVU).

Prepare yourself for a hefty dose of early '90s nostalgia, right down to period hair and music. You'll have to decide for yourself whether that's an era you want to revisit.

Frankie (Connor Buckley) has no choice. He's stuck there as a 16-year-old high school freshman with a dad (Meloni) who has put his medical career on hold so he can take a more hands-on part in raising his two teens. This is a family role that Jack - imperious, condescending, and cynical - is wildly ill-equipped to play. No one is going to confuse him with Carl Betz on The Donna Reed Show, another sitcom doctor dad.

Jack is up in everyone's business, which in the early going means his kids' first fumblings with sexuality, and has a witheringly snarky comment for every occasion. Just to sear in the humiliation.

It's a wonderful opportunity for Meloni, playing TV's most unregenerate curmudgeon since Dabney Coleman gave us Buffalo Bill. And he makes a smorgasbord of it.

If only Surviving Jack was more daring. But it falls into TV's sap-trap. Meloni is deliciously derisive, but only for the first 20 minutes of the episode. At the end, there must be a method to his sarcasm. His advice must turn out to be solid, and his heart in the right place.

Surviving Jack has an appealing cast, which includes Rachael Harris, Claudia Lee, Tyler Foden, and Kevin Hernandez, but it really doesn't earn its wholesome moments.

It's not necessary to survive Jack. You only have to wait him out. He'll get all mushy just before the closing credits. But he's fun while he's nasty.

 


TV REVIEW

"Surviving Jack"

9:30 p.m. Thursday on Fox29


dhiltbrand@phillynews.com

215-854-4552

@daveondemand_tv

 

David Hiltbrand Inquirer TV Critic
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