Dodge City Daily Globe - Dodge City, KS
  • Stay Tuned: Christopher Meloni gets to be funny in ‘Surviving Jack’

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  • When you’re 16, the idea that you have to “survive” things can take up a lot of your time. For me, it was trying to survive a gym class where I had to perform gymnastics routines on an actual balance beam and uneven bars. For 16-year-old Frankie Dunlevy (Connor Buckley), it’s outlasting his father’s attempts at parenting. Thanks to a great performance by Christopher Meloni as the parent in question, “Surviving Jack” is a coming-of-age story worth watching even if the worst thing you remember surviving as a 16-year-old is yourself.
    Set in the 1990s and narrated by the adult Frankie, “Surviving Jack” focuses on Frankie’s relationship with his father, Jack Dunlevy, a good-intentioned, no-nonsense doctor who becomes a full-time parent when his wife goes to law school. Meloni, who played a no-nonsense detective on “Law and Order: SVU,” gives Jack a similarly focused intensity, but now he’s allowed to be funny. It’s a great combination that Meloni delivers effortlessly.
    Jack is the dad who is awake at 3 a.m. to catch you getting up to no good and then calmly punishes you by making you run a lap around the neighborhood. He’s straightforward and lacks a filter, which gives Meloni a chance to shine with a skillful deadpan delivery. When he finds out Frankie and his friends stole some nudie magazines from a homeless man, he tells him: “You will never have sex with a woman who looks like that” and to return what he stole — in that order. When Frankie confides in Jack that he likes a girl, he finds a box of condoms in his lunch bag with a note that reads: “I will only pay for a baby that comes out of your mother.” The problem is, he’s not the one who finds the note first and it’s read out to the entire school cafeteria.
    Rachael Harris plays Jack’s wife, Joanne. They have a partnership that feels equal, a refreshing characterization that’s often missing in the husband/wife dynamics of situation comedies. Harris has more scenes with Frankie’s sister Rachel (Claudia Lee), and she gives the mother/daughter moments a believable and funny awkwardness. Her interactions with Meloni achieve a nice chemistry that allows each actor room to land the punchline. When she thinks Jack isn’t taking a situation with Rachel and her boyfriend seriously, she warns: “I want you to remember this moment when we’re at Rachel’s fourth wedding.” He says: “I’ll be too drunk.”
    Frankie’s coming-of-age tale is also Jack’s coming-of-age story, as he deepens his relationship with his children and learns how to be a better father. The 1990s setting, complete with soundtrack, may have limited appeal to those who want their situation comedies minus nostalgia and the narration distracts from the show. But thanks to Meloni, “Surviving Jack” deserves to survive.
    Page 2 of 2 - “Surviving Jack” is on Thursdays at 9:30 p.m. EDT on Fox.
    Melissa Crawley is the author of “Mr. Sorkin Goes to Washington: Shaping the President on Television’s ‘The West Wing.’” She has a PhD in media studies and is a member of the Television Critics Association. To comment on Stay Tuned, email her at staytuned@outlook.com or follow her on Twitter at @MelissaCrawley.
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