‘Surviving Jack’ tells charming ‘90s coming-of-age story

March 25, 2014

courtesy of Fox Television

While it certainly cannot replace “That ’70s Show” as the best period sitcom of all time, FOX’s upcoming comedy series, “Surviving Jack,” is fun and charming in its own right. Filled with cassette tapes and hypercolor clothing, the series finds a good balance between ’90s nostalgia and likeable characters. It premieres on FOX on March 27.

Based on the autobiography of Justin Halpern, the creator of “$h*! My Dad Says” creator, the show follows Jack Dunlevy, an ex-military doctor who becomes a full-time parent when his wife decides to attend law school. Played by “Law & Order: SVU” alum Christopher Meloni, Jack immediately uses his no-nonsense approach to keep his teenagers, Frankie and Rachel, in line.

Unlike the short-lived “$h*! My Dad Says,” “Surviving Jack” focuses on establishing relatable characters rather than landing cheap laughs. Each episode is narrated by Jack’s son Frankie, who struggles with the problems all adolescents face.

From finding the courage to kiss a pretty girl to keeping in touch with his closest friends, Frankie’s awkward endeavors are a throwback to the classic coming-of-age story that has somewhat died out.

Frankie’s ungainliness is counterbalanced by Jack’s tough-nosed approach to parental matters. Jack is the type of man who speaks his mind and never shies away from crossing a line to get the point across. With a father who uses shotguns and hoses to mentally prepare his children for varsity tryouts, life is bound to be interesting.

The dynamic between Frankie and Jack is hilarious and surprisingly sweet. Both are struggling to fill their newfound roles. As they spend more time together, Frankie is learning how to become a man and Jack is learning how to become a full-time father. The reality is that parents make mistakes, and there is nothing wrong with that.

While Jack’s methods might be over the top, his heart is in the right place, and it is clear he truly cares about his children. Though episodes tend to end in a sappy, lesson-of-the week manner, the show never loses its balance between family drama and light-hearted fun. In a way, the coming-of-age aspect of the show applies to both Jack and his children.

The lovable cast is instrumental in the show’s success. Straight out of his most well known role on “SVU,” Christopher Meloni’s deadpan delivery and cynical attitude makes him perfect for the role of Jack. He has a charisma and gravitas that make Jack likeable even while his parenting tactics are questionable.

Rachael Harris, who plays Jack’s wife, is wonderful as always, but receives little screen time in the first two episodes. Newcomer Connor Buckley plays Frankie, and he delivers an awkward charm reminiscent of ’90s teen dramas.

Coming of age stories are rarely delivered well on television these days, but “Surviving Jack” may be on the way to changing this situation.

A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, March 25 print edition. Bob Teoh is entertainment editor. Email him at bteoh@nyunews.com.

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