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From Across the Pond: "The Robinsons"

Every once in a while, BBC America will re-air a recent program that you may have missed the first time around... or one that you'd like to TiVo as the wait for DVDs here in the States seems inexoribly long lately. One such show is the family dramedy The Robinsons, a zany and often madcap series about a long-suffering family and their even more long-suffering son. Think of it as Arrested Development Lite, but without the money and furs and carnivorous seals.

As the series opens, Ed Robinson (The Office's Martin Freeman, here channeling a slightly more downtrodden version of Tim) is in a state of freefall: his wife ended their marriage by telling him he was useless in bed, he hates his dull job as a re-insurance agent for the marine industry, and--with nowhere else to go--he moves into his aunt's dreary apartment, while she is away on an extended vacation. When Ed begins an affair with a co-worker who gets promoted over him, she ends up dumping him as soon as she is promoted... and fires him for good measure.

If only Ed's family would support him, at least emotionally. But they all have their own neuroses and dramas to deal with at the expense of others around them. Like his uptight sister, Vicky (Abigail Cruttenden), a man-hungry interior designer, who invents new and particularly inane reasons to dump her latest beaus each episode (one sniffs too much, another is too emotional). Meanwhile, Ed gets no sympathy from his older brother George (Hugh Bonneville), a workplace efficience expert who cannot leave his passion for efficiency at his office. When he realizes his poor 5-year-old son Albert isn't getting along with the other boys at school, he forces Albert to participate in a personal seminar on socialization, complete with role-playing exercises, a slideshow presentation, and a lecture.

The apple doesn't fall far from the tree as Ed's parents aren't much better or any more sympathetic. His dad Hector (Richard Johnson), is a notoriously disappointed man and constantly bickers with mom Pam (Anna Massey), his shrewish wife. Besides for the one-sided conversations he engages in with his oblivious sister, Ed's only emotional outlet is his brother George's wife Maggie (Amanda Root), the only caring and non-self-absorbed member of the entire Robinson clan... but that might be because she doesn't actually have any Robinson DNA in her blood.

Throughout each episode, Ed tells us of the exploits--both daring and dastardly--of his ancestors, The Robinsons, yet he never seems to make much of himself. But then again, neither do his siblings, who end up getting themselves into as messy of situations as Ed does each episode. Vicky dates a man in his 60s, but soon has to break up with him, when she realizes that she has developed a father complex, even going so far as to hallucinate that she is making out with her own father when she kisses him. George donates a slide to his son's school in an attempt to make Albert love him, only to be outdone by one of the other fathers. Ed dates a girl who loves his family more than she loves him.

Freeman, as the put-upon Ed, is a genial lead and you can't help but like him, despite his status as world's biggest loser. He excels at creating characters that are alternatingly pathetic and sympathetic. (At the same time, Ed is Tim with a slightly better haircut and without the off-putting armpit stains, but without a Dawn to focus his creative energies, as in The Office, he seems a bit lost.) The supporting cast is top-notch, each of them revelling fully in the idiosyncracies of their characters. I wish we could have gotten more of Amanda Root's Maggie, as she is the emotional heart of the show and it's wonderful to see the usually dramatic actress in a more comedic role.

Ultimately, The Robinsons isn't groundbreaking in any way, but it is amusing and rather comforting in the same way that a cup of Earl Grey tea is: surely nothing you haven't had before, but warm and a little bit tart.

"The Robinsons" is re-airing its six-episode run Wednesday evenings at 8 pm PST on BBC America.

What’s On Tonight

8 pm: Out of Practice/Courting Alex (CBS); Deal or No Deal (NBC); One Tree Hill (WB); George Lopez/Freddie (ABC); Bones (FOX); America's Next Top Model (UPN)

9 pm: Criminal Minds (CBS); Law & Order (NBC); Gilmore Girls (WB); Lost (ABC); American Idol/Unan1mous (FOX); Veronica Mars (UPN)

10 pm: CSI: New York (CBS); Heist (NBC); The Evidence (ABC)

What I’ll Be Watching

Lost.

Surely that's not a big surprise. (What is a surprise is that ABC is finally showing us first-run episodes.) On tonight's brand-spanking-new episode entitled, "The Whole Truth," Sun wrestles with telling Jin a newfound secret... possibly one dealing with why she needs to ask gun-toting Sawyer for a home pregnancy test? Could there be another island baby in our future?

Veronica Mars.

Even after last week's lackluster episode (I partially blame Laguna Beach's Kristin Cavallari for that, but only partially), I really hope things pick up in this week's installment ("The Quick and the Wed"). Veronica suspects foul play when the sister of Wallace's new girlfriend disappears before her wedding day. (Let's hope she doesn't have those freaky Runaway Bride eyes.) All I can say is that Mac (Tina Majorino) better be in this episode--Rob Thomas, if you're reading this, make Mac a series regular already!

Will I check out Heist? Not sure. It seems little tired and overwrought, like it's trying way too hard. Like series lead Dougray Scott. I didn't even recognize him.

What I won't be watching for sure is FOX's new reality entry Unan1mous, a new low for the genre as a whole. A bunch of people--nine to be precise--are sequestered in an undisclosed underground location (Vice President Cheney, is that you over there?) and they must vote to determine which one of them walks away with millions of dollars, but they don't know that as the clock ticks down so does the dollar amount the victor walks away with. (And what's up with the title? Unan1mous? Did NUMB3RS get lonely as the only show with a number embedded in the title?) I won't be watching.

Comments

Anonymous said…
Yeah, last week's "Veronica Mars" was a let down. Especially after having to wait so long for a new episode. But Tina Majorino rocks! So happy to see her in "Big Love" too. Don't you just want to hug her? Hopefully "Veronica" is back on track tonight!

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