“Out of Practice” Improving with Practice

The cast of Out of Practice

“You should come out with me. I’m like some dyke-sniffing truffle hog.”

Lines like this one aren’t exactly common fare for network sitcoms, but on CBS’s new series Out of Practice, the lesbian jokes flow freely. (In this case, the line is said by a man to his lesbian sister, after his brother remarks sarcastically that he must meet a lot of lesbians because his advances are always being rebuffed.)

Besides being frequent the Sapphic quips are generally funny, and the writers don’t always resort to stereotypes to get the laughs. They also aren’t afraid to use a word like “dyke,” and in this case the bold choice of terms indicates a level of comfort that implies respect.

One of the show’s primary characters, Regina (Paula Marshall), is a lesbian, and her family members–who comprise the remainder of the main players–are clearly accepting enough to mention her sexual orientation in good-natured teasing. The also take it as a matter of fact, as one of many enduring, and even endearing, aspects of her personality.

The fledgling show got off to a slow start last month. The pilot came off as a typical laugh-track sitcom that not even the big-ticket actors could rescue from caricature and cliché. But pilots are for setting up basic premises, introducing characters, and taking care of other necessary business. While the ultimate goal is to generate a buzz and secure the show’s success, it’s a rare sitcom that dazzles right off the starting line.

But the second and third episodes of Out of Practice show clear improvement. The groundwork has been laid and everyone can get on with the business of providing entertainment. And it’s proving to be a well-written show with strong performances and some clever lines. It even has its moments where the viewer’s own laughter coincides with the canned variety provided.

The Barnes family is helmed by Lydia (Stockard Channing), a hotshot cardiologist, and Stewart (Henry Winkler), the gastroenterologist she has recently divorced. Their youngest son, Ben (Christopher Gorham) is a couples counselor whose own marriage is failing, and sister Regina is a busy E.R. doctor who needs constant stimulus–both professionally and personally. Their older brother Oliver (Ty Burrell) is a self-absorbed plastic surgeon who mainly occupies himself with pursuing the prettiest women he can find (some of whom he has worked on).

Stewart has taken up with his thirty-something secretary Crystal (Jennifer Tilly, who is actually 47 and looks damn good). Crystal has had some unspecified work done by Oliver and plays a type similar to her role as Violet in Bound, which her voice is perfectly suited for.

One of the show’s regular features is Lydia taking cheap shots at her daughter’s grooming habits and girl-chasing behavior. Lydia’s only lines that aren’t cheap shots seem to be those that set up the cutting zingers she hurls. The usual targets are her daughter, or her ex-husband and his new girlfriend (as in: “Can I get you anything? A chair? A pole?”).

But how many lesbians haven’t had to endure nitpicky remarks about their hair style and fashion choices? It’s at least realistic.

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