'Do Not Disturb': Plenty of Vacancy In This Hotel

Jerry O'Connell plays a hotel general manager under the watch of Niecy Nash's human resources director.
Jerry O'Connell plays a hotel general manager under the watch of Niecy Nash's human resources director. (By Ray Mickshaw -- Fox Via Associated Press)
By Tom Shales
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 10, 2008

In promotional interviews for the new Fox sitcom "Do Not Disturb," cast members and writer/executive producer Abraham Higginbotham mention the show's resemblance in format to "Upstairs, Downstairs," the famous British series about masters and servants in a posh London house.

But tune in to the premiere of "Disturb" tonight (not exactly a great idea) and you'll likely wonder where the heck the upstairs is. At this point, it's mainly "Downstairs."

The setting is a fashionable New York "boutique" hotel, presumably the kind with the chichi trappings and rooms as small as porta-potties. Higginbotham struggles to interest us in the comings, goings, doings and noodlings of the staff, who work very little but spend a lot of time talking about sex, at least on the premiere.

Talk, talk, talk! Sex, sex, sex!

The most attractive and assertive character in the piece, Rhonda the human resources director (played very nicely by Niecy Nash), conducts a brief sexual harassment seminar for the staff because, she believes, there's too much hanky-panky being practiced, or at least proposed, on the premises. Chief culprit is Neal, the general manager, played by Jerry O'Connell, survivor of a previous flop sitcom called "Carpoolers" but better remembered as the chubby kid in the '80s film "Stand by Me" and the buff quarterback in the '90s film "Jerry Maguire."

O'Connell is not terribly likable as Neal, but then neither is Neal himself; he's on the smug side as regards his alleged irresistibility, a tired stereotype. Meanwhile, other members of the overpopulated cast go about their own (monkey) business, the more amusing of them including Molly Stanton as Nicole, a frustrated model trapped in "guest relations" and technically an "upstairs" girl. She's delighted to get any modeling job on the side -- even one as poster person for crystal meth addiction, Ms. "Don't Let This Happen to You."

Jesse Tyler Ferguson plays Larry, token gay guy and head of housekeeping, who visits a cruisey bar with the encouragement of bellman Gus, a straight co-worker played by Dave Franco (younger brother of James Franco of the "Spider-Man" movies). Franco stays admirably low-key and thus stands out from the mostly manic crowd, but he doesn't seem entirely comfortable.

It's doubtful this show was his first choice among acting jobs. That doesn't mean the actors don't try, and under the direction of Jason Bateman (usually on the other side of the camera as an actor), everybody is at least in there swinging.

Making perhaps the best impression is the show's token plump person: Jolene Purdy plays Molly, who takes reservations (very infrequently, it appears). When Molly tells Nicole she's been doing some modeling herself, Nicole is incredulous. But Molly whips out a copy of a catalogue for XXL ladies, and there she is on the cover. To Higginbotham's credit, what "fat jokes" there are tend to be subtle and even gentle.

There are yet more characters in the ensemble -- in fact, too many, and too many sets for them to strut and fret upon. Even with all those sets, we barely get a glimpse of the lobby, the focal point for "upstairs" shtick, and never see one of the guest rooms. It's a small complaint, but the setting never really seems like a hotel; the room where most of the scenes occur is strictly generic.

For the record, the title "Do Not Disturb" has been used several times over the years, as you might expect -- among them a 1965 Doris Day comedy and the 1998 Italian film "Non Disturbare." When you get right down to it, Fox's "Do Not Disturb" doesn't have as many laughs as "The Suite Life of Zack and Cody," a Disney Channel sitcom about two little boys who live with their mother in a posh Manhattan hotel.

And instead of opting for the trite title, Higginbotham should have looked harder for something more novel. He could have found one suitable title right there in his own dialogue: We're thinking, of course, of "Don't Let This Happen to You."

Do Not Disturb (30 minutes) debuts tonight on Channel 5 at 9:30.

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