'Worst Week': Off to a Hapless, And Possibly Hopeless, Start

By Tom Shales
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 22, 2008

Lovable dunces have been comedy staples going back farther than anyone can count. But the hero of "Worst Week," making its debut tonight on Channel 9, is not lovable; he's an aggravating idiot for whom it is difficult to feel sympathy, and insulting to feel empathy.

With so few sitcoms premiering as part of the fall season (CBS has only one other, "Gary Unmarried"), you'd think the networks would have winnowed down the contenders to the best and brightest. But "Worst Week" hardly induces cheer. It doesn't even try, aiming for sadistic laughter over the plight of a feckless schnook. In its fatalistic morbidity, it comes off as a kind of sitcom sick.

"Seinfeld" made sitcoms safe for antiheroes with its collection of deplorable and selfish brats, but they had redeeming qualities. Sam Briggs, the loco focus of "Worst Week," seems nothing more complex than an imbecilic lummox who is forever blundering into calamity. He is supposed to be testing the patience of his fiancee and her parents, but he tests the patience of viewers, too. This viewer came quickly to the conclusion that there is no point in suffering the insufferable.

On tonight's premiere, Sam is on his way to the fiancee's parents' home, but he lets himself get waylaid by a drunken woman at a party. Foolishly, he volunteers to take her to her apartment, where he deposits her now unconscious body on the bed. Then on the flimsy pretext that his clothes are wet from rain, he removes them and takes a shower. A shower because your clothes are wet? The logic is elusive.

There's nothing in the bathroom with which to dry or cover himself, so he walks out naked -- just as the woman awakes from her alcohol-induced nap. She naturally fails to recognize the man with whom she flirted an hour earlier and begins screaming. Obviously, the writers are trying to find a way to get an undressed Sam to the front door of his future in-laws' house -- so obviously that it isn't funny when they do.

Wearing a trash bag as an adult diaper, Briggs keeps compounding gaffe upon gaffe without causing laugh upon laugh. Because the power conveniently goes out in the parents' home, Sam wanders into the kitchen instead of the bathroom and urinates on the goose that Mom was going to serve for dinner.

There are a few dark laughs later when Sam -- under the mistaken impression that his girlfriend's dad collapsed and died while walking downtown -- spreads the news of his demise throughout the family. Then, after this blundering klutz has caused everyone grief and made a titanic nuisance of himself, the family members let him go into the basement to fiddle with the fuses when the power goes out again. Naturally, he sets one of Dad's birthday presents on fire; in back-story dialogue, we learn he is something of a pyromaniac. But, you know, a lovable pyromaniac.

Sam is made even more irritating than he ought to be through Kyle Bornheimer's cloyingly sappy performance. Bornheimer seems sometimes to be imitating John Goodman's delivery, but his clueless, doofus demeanor is harder to place; maybe it's original in some grotesque, ghastly way. It's a punishingly repetitious, one-note performance -- one flat note played on bagpipes.

One bright spot in the cast is Kurtwood Smith (often the villain in movies, like "RoboCop") as the Judge, father of Sam's girlfriend and Sam's most vigilant enemy. They're each other's nemesis, although Sam is trying to be liked and the Judge isn't. And yet it's the Judge who comes off as likable, partly because he has the good sense to hate Sam. He wishes Sam would go away and never come back, and who can blame him?

If you identify with the Judge, you'll hate the show. If you identify with Sam, you'd better keep an eye out for unidentified falling objects zooming toward your head. "Worst Week" has the primal simplicity of a Road Runner cartoon but less depth and, of course, far fewer laughs.

Worst Week (30 minutes) premieres tonight at 9:30 on Channel 9.

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