'Wedding Bells': Comedy That's Worthy of a Warm Reception

KaDee Strickland and Sherri Shepherd on the cute Fox comedy.
KaDee Strickland and Sherri Shepherd on the cute Fox comedy. (By Carin Baer -- Fox)
By Tom Shales
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Of all the adjectives that might reasonably be applied to the TV work of writer-producer David E. Kelley, "cute" would seem to be the least appropriate. Kelley brought a new smart-alecky cynicism to episodic TV, albeit one that might be unexpectedly interrupted for a bit of sentimental mush just to keep viewers off guard.

With "The Wedding Bells," a new Fox show that Kelley has created with partners Jason Katims and Jonathan Pontell, the old delicate balance has tipped the other way. The show is not only cute but also kind of sweet, essentially affirmative (all the more remarkable considering the vulnerability of the target, the great American wedding) and philosophically sanguine.

Weddings are ghastly, barbaric, embarrassing; it's all but impossible for the participants to walk away with their dignity intact. Every attempt to modernize them, to make them less mawkish and mushy, tends to backfire and leave everyone with kissers full of frosting. Kelley seems to acknowledge that the enemy cannot be defeated and so one might as well give in and give up -- sing "Sunrise, Sunset," shoot the garter into the air, have too much to drink and blubber like a baby.

"Wedding Bells" seems to consist of something old, something new and certainly something borrowed -- whether it's the Adam Sandler movie "The Wedding Singer" or the crazed farce "Wedding Crashers" or any number of memorable movie weddings, from "It Happened One Night" to "The Graduate."

The show, getting a "sneak preview" on Fox after the luxurious lead-in of "American Idol" tonight (then moving to Friday nights at 9), also comes across like a lighthearted version of HBO's memorable "Six Feet Under," with the obvious difference being that instead of a funeral as the centerpiece of each episode, "Wedding Bells" will depend on tying that once irreversible connubial knot -- although it's not so irreversible anymore, having become more of a slipknot.

As we got to know the family that ran the funeral home in "Six Feet Under," so we'll investigate the neuroses and idiosyncrasies of the three sisters who run the Wedding Palace, a one-stop, almost drive-through marital emporium that the sisters inherited when their parents divorced. The Palace is supposedly based on a real such place on Long Island; the sisters are not.

Teri Polo seems the most buoyantly attractive as Jane, KaDee Strickland plays Annie, and Sarah Jones is Sammy. Then there's the gallery of minor supporting characters -- a temperamental chef named Ernesto who wants everyone to sample "my little balls" (shades of an Alec Baldwin character on "Saturday Night Live"); the plump mother of the bride, who likes to approach strangers announcing, "I'm an acquired taste"; and a slightly sexy, super-stubbled photographer (Michael Landes) who appears to have the hots for Jane.

Russell (Benjamin King), husband to Jane, is your basic quintessential bore, one who likes to stalk around the premises declaring, "I'm the COO!" -- a title one has to assume is meaningless from the bubbly way that he announces it.

The show is no laff riot, nor does it subject the wedding ritual to a devastating array of new perspectives or penetrating insights. If anything, Kelley seems to be taking a reactionary step backward. But the overall effect is pleasing, light, cheerful -- Kelley in a mood not to debunk or trash but to celebrate, gently lampoon, and wave the white flag in the traditional symbol for "I surrender."

The Wedding Bells (60 minutes) debuts tonight at 9 on Fox.

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