by pat howard

DVD Wish List | “Suddenly Susan”

In DVD Wish List on April 8, 2009 at 1:19 pm

I’ve been toying with changing the name of this feature to something a little more accurate. Perhaps “Mediocre Shows from the ’90s” or “Will Anyone Else Admit to Liking/Watching This Besides Me?” or “Shows I’d Sample Again if Someone Dusted Them Off on Hulu.” Never have these feelings been more intense than in this week’s installment, which focuses on Brooke Shields’ glory days as magazine columnist Susan Keane in Suddenly Susan, but perhaps this walk down memory lane will salve some of Shields’ open wounds now that she finally admits Lipstick Jungle has been 86ed.

This was about as bland as ’90s sitcoms dared to get, and I have no excuses other than a TV addiction, an appreciation for San Francisco, and underdeveloped judgment for embracing it as wholeheartedly as I did. It’s safe to say that, after a guest appearance on a post-Super Bowl Friends episode briefly put Shields back into the public consciousness, this sitcom only survived as long as it did because it spent its first season in the cushy hammock between then-blockbusters Seinfeld and ER. It languished for three long seasons after being banished from then-Must See Thursdays, and I believe I subjected myself to most of them.

The setup for the show was that Susan left her fiance at the altar and was now on her own in life for the first time, thereby creating a theoretical plot pile for both the series and Keane’s column in The Gate magazine, also titled “Suddenly Susan.” ’80s remnant Judd Nelson was also there, as the boss, Jack (definitely no Donaghy).

Stories primarily revolved around the predicaments of being on one’s own (apartments! utility bills! craziness!) and the hilarious hi jinx of the magazine’s “newsroom” which seemed even less productive than the staff at my own high school’s monthly newspaper. I guess if the target demographic was straight female and gay male teens with an interest in journalism, they nailed it (though, despite being set in San Fran, the series’ only once even tangentially acknowledged the city’s sprawling gay community). Also, there was a protracted stab at romantic tension between Jack and Susan, which ended in failure.

The cast, for its part, was likable in the early seasons. To offset Shields’ imposing height and banal personality, diminuitve Kathy Griffin (before the D-List) was the sassy best friend Vicki. Barbara Barrie was Susan’s sage hippie of a Nana, a role she essentially reprised as Joy’s mother a few years later in Dead Like Me.

Nestor Carbonell did an embarrassing accent as Luis, the photographer (which was re-dubbed from Cuban to Russian in the Latin-American version, according to IMDb). David Strickland was music critic Todd until he commited suicide during the show’s run, and though his death was written into a tribute episode, it was as if the show never recovered from the loss.

It was dramatically retooled for a “let’s make enough episodes for syndication” final lap: a slumming Eric Idle replaced Jack as the new boss, bringing a pre-“the earth is flat” Sherri Shepherd on as his assistant and turning The Gate into a men’s magazine, though it’s unclear what purpose the title character served in this arrangement. Rob Estes was inserted as Susan’s new love interest, Oliver, so she still wouldn’t have to look outside the workplace for the man she supposedly didn’t need. The fourth season featured the show’s third and least enjoyable theme song, which is saying something given that the original titles were a rock guitar cover of Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy.”

This shameless money-grubbing final run was such an embarrassment to NBC that they refused to even burn it off in the summer, eventually relegating the show’s final four episodes (which included the two-part finale in which Susan once again found herself at odds with an altar) to the wee hours of a December morning in 2000. Quite a fall for a show that finished third in the ratings during its inagural season.

So unless you happened to be awake and watching NBC at 1:30 a.m. the morning after Christmas nine years ago, caught the show during its one year in syndication (hope you made your money back, Warner Brothers), or stumbled on Lifetime Real Women while lost in your digital tier a few years ago, it’s unlikely that you’ve seen how Susan and her pals ended up. Sadly, all three of these situations apply to me, which is how I can tell you it involved a happy ending for Susan and Oliver, and a clip montage featuring an overused Beatles song.

DVD status: Tumbleweeds

Prognosis: My gut says this one is never going to see the light of day, but with similar driftwood like Caroline in the City washing up lately, I suppose it’s anyone’s guess.

  1. I want to see it again, and yes the 4th season was absolutely worthless (aside from Rob Estes’ sex-appeal) but hey it had wisecracking Kathy Griffin, and Judd Nelson. I also liked Susan’s rival (apparently since high school) bitchy Maddie Piper, who eventually even came to work for the magazine in season 3.

    Yes it was cheesy but there’s been countless cheesy sitcoms with less going for it, and that includes the painfully unfunny Caroline in the City.

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