90s. Christopher Meloni. Those are just two reasons to watch Surviving Jack on Fox this Thursday night, though not necessarily in that order. While ABC has The Goldbergs to offer us a serving of fond, totally radical 80s nostalgia, packaged as a single camera family comedy, Surviving Jack nudges us into the next decade, when "Schwing" was a thing, LL Cool J was a rapper, Jurassic Park was a book and a kid needed to go to desperate lengths for a peek at some porn. While it's brimming with 90s nostalgia, Surviving Jack stands on its own as a solid family comedy, with an emphasis on growing up, thanks in large part to Christopher Meloni's hilarious portrayal of a gruff and candid father.
Created by Patrick Schumaker and Sh*t My Dad Says scribe Justin Halpern, based on Halpern's memoir I Suck at Girls, Surviving Jack introduces us to the Dunlevy family, led by Chris Meloni's Jack and Rachael Harris' Joanne. Their kids are Rachel (Claudia Lee) and Frankie (Connor Buckley), and much of the show focuses on Frankie's adolescent challenges. Frankie occasionally narrates this story, however Jack -- as you may have surmised by the title -- is at the center, as we get to know Meloni's character through Frankie's eyes. And that's just as well, as Meloni steals the show, playing the tell-it-like-it-is Dad in a way that's humorous but also portrays a caring father who appreciates a bit of negative reenforcement once in a while and doesn't think it would do his son any favors to coddle him. As that kind of dad, Meloni owns this role and then some.
The pilot episode has Frankie going to extreme lengths to get his hands on some porn, while he also tries to make some headway with a girl he likes, while his pretty sister has no trouble at all in the guy department, though she's also in need of some guidance. The second episode we were given to screen ("Gonna Make You Sweat") has Jack interfering with Frankie's efforts to make the varsity baseball team, while Rachel deals with some boyfriend drama involving infidelity. In true family comedy fashion, life lessons are learned and laughs are earned.
Beyond Meloni, the cast for Surviving Jack is solid. The first two episodes don't really give us a good read on what kind of TV mom Joanne Dunlevy is, beyond her determination to be a good mother. But Rachael Harris has demonstrated her comedic abilities enough in the past and we see plenty of that humor in her performance as Joanne, so I'm confident her character will find its shape in time. Connor Buckley takes on the role of Frankie with believable awkwardness and insecurity. He's not a hopeless social outcast, but his confidence needs work and his father's efforts could make or break that. And then there's Rachel, who has Kelly Taylor hair and whose social problems are less to do with fitting in as they are with making good choices. It's pretty standard teen stuff, with a 90s setting, but it works well to set the stage for humorous antics.
It's hard to look at Surviving Jack and not want to compare it to The Goldbergs as another funny and nostalgic coming-of-age story, but the timeframe and subtle differences in the tone are enough to differentiate this Fox comedy from ABC's, and as a fan of both decades, I don't see why there isn't enough room for both on network TV. What's more, Surviving Jack is funny, it makes good use of its setting including great nods to 90s fashion, music and pop culture, and over all, it's a welcome addition to the growing slate of worth-watching family comedies on TV right now. Added to Chris Meloni's fantastic performance in the crucial titular role, this Surviving Jack is well worth a look.
Surviving Jack premieres Thursday, March 27 at 9:30/8:30c on FOX.