'How're we doing?'

TV Joey is already a loss before the opening moments of the first episode simply because its a spin-off from the biggest live-action sitcom on the planet. The pressure the creators and writers must have felt when handed this bohemouth must have been extra-ordinary, since the network will have been looking for something to fill a very big hole. Unless Joey was sitting in a New York apartment with five other people called Chandler, Pheobe, Ross, Rachel and Monica this was never going to happen for them.

The obvious unfair comparison would be the pilot episode of Friends which for me is a perfect 22 minutes of comedy which somehow manages to define all the characters, set up their relationships and still manage to be barn stormingly hilarious. Joey's pilot isn't like that -- it's more of a slow burn. It simply doesn't fly in the same way. The funnier moments for example happened when references were made to the previous series, which is either lazy or provides continuity depending on your point of view.

Which is why curiously, it isn't totally awful. The scripts are fairly well constructed and the jokes are pleasingly character based; none of your Chandleresque pop culture references hanging around looking for a punchline. There is some good chemistry between Matt LeBlanc and his co-stars. Drea de Matteo (who I believe was in something called The Sopranos) as his sister Gina has a real aptitude for comedy -- to a degree there is a feeling that some of the slapstick has shifted from the Joey character in her direction. Paulo Costanzo is welcome and again bashes away excellently at the banter. Having a Rocket Scientist in the ensemble is a good choice although they may have difficulties if they don't vary the idiot/genius dynamic between Joey/Michael which could become tiresome.

Which is just one of the question marks. Some of the funnier moments in the mothership were at the time when we'd cut back to Joey and he'd be doing something funny. Then they were used to counterpoint another more tragicomic scene. Here they are just sort of there and after a while it could become repetitious. Also I'm not entirely convinced by Andrea Anders character Alex, who seems a little blank to me. Perhaps they're hedging for not waiting to see what works or doesn't but that's dangerous as in this situation the viewer needs something to hold onto pretty quickly. So she's married, and a lawyer and .... ?

But I'm willing to give it a chance, if only for nostaglic reasons. This doesn't feel like the simply cash-in it could have been, with Janice turning up in episode two and Gunther passing by in four. There is a good feeling of treating this as a different show, with a different sensibility. It's quite pleasing that they are taking the time to set up the characters and relationships over a constant stream of empty laughs. But they can't leave it too long before giving us that killer episode which will keep us around. The first two episodes were pleasant but a whole season like this?

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