Married on FX is worth your half-hour, especially if you need a laugh or to feel better about yourself, if only by comparison to our betrothed couple.
There have only been a few television shows where I could definitely say of its star character, without fear of contradiction, “That guy is pathetic.” Yet, Nat Faxon has given us the character of Russ Bowman who is pathetic in spades, clubs, hearts, jacks, the game of life and pretty much anything else he comes in contact with. It is neither really a matter of having drawn a bad set of cards in life or marriage, nor is it that he does not know how to play, although that may be open to debate. It is more a matter of a complete and total lack of effort which is compounded by his barely attainable goal of just getting by no matter what the situation. Add in to that the fact that instant gratification is always at the top of his things to do list in this FX show and, voila, you have that guy the girls always used to make the “L” sign to. You know, thumb to forehead, fingers pointing to the sky and the apparently required silent mouthing of the dreaded word “loser,” just to make things perfectly clear. Yep, Russ and the big “L” are inseparable in Married on FX.
But Russ does have a few good qualities. He is a nice, easy-going guy who doesn’t really complain all that much, given his circumstances, and he is always up for a good time. His rumpled, hound-dog look doesn’t intimidate anyone, so he is good for a laugh. To laugh at or laugh with, your choice. Because at least Russ knows he is there for a good laugh and doesn’t take himself, or anything else, seriously at all. So whether it is his daughter’s cut-rate orthodontics in East L.A., or suddenly realizing he is in a mansion where his favorite covert internet viewing experience was filmed, Russ is always just a goofy smile and a step away from disaster in this FX show. Yet, he always lives to see another day. Such is the amazing resiliency of Russ. This portrayal of this type of guy is pretty realistic, too, except for the fact that, at least once, he has miraculously come up with thousands of dollars just in the nick of time. I don’t think Russ could come up with a hundred dollars even if it was the hundred doll-hairs from his daughter’s doll. But this is comedy, and sudden, desperate, last minute saves, replete with every calamity but hounds baying at the door, are his stock in trade. Somehow he always saves the day, even if the result is, as usual, settling for a second-rate solution that is somewhat of a flop in its own right, a day late and a dollar short. But you can’t hate Russ, as he flops down exhausted, rumpled, and grinning that goofball smile of pure relief that says nothing more than, “I skated by again.” I guess a trip to the steps of the United States Bankruptcy Court would not be funny. Whenever this show ends, keep that in mind for a downer finale. One day the last second fish will not be pulled out of the fire. There will be no rabbit in the hat. Poor Russ is living on fumes somewhere between the quiet desperation of most men’s lives, the boredom of waiting, and the sheer terror of war.
Unbelievably, the biggest rabbit Russ ever pulled out of his hat was his great, good sport, wife, Lina Bowman. You get the feeling they were college sweethearts, but now that flash has fizzled. Now she has him and the kids. But she loves them all. Judy Greer plays the put-upon Lina and I have been digging her chili ever since her outrageous Cinderella-like, rags to riches character, Vylette, nee Fern, in the 1999 film, Jawbreaker. In 2008’s 27 Dresses, she played a more mature woman, Casey, but still with plenty of snap, crackle and pop. Lina is a good egg in Married and she has to be to put up with the antics of Russ. A very resigned, very good, egg, who drew the joker out of a stacked deck. She really stands in stark contrast to the many shrew-women wives that abound in the dramatic side of television these days. In essence, Lina is the straight white bread that compliments the ham of Russ in this comedic duo.
Lina’s friend, Jess, is played by Jenny Slate, in a restrained comedic performance. Restrained, that is, compared with some of her crazed offerings on the Kroll Show such as Liz B., of PubLIZity, and Liz’s niece, Denise. That kind of says it all.
In season one of Married on FX, Paul Reiser played Shep, the husband of Jess. You might remember him from Mad About You which ran from 1992 to 1997. In Married, he has played a middle-age grouch. However, in Mad About You, I guess he was supposed to be the archetype of the perfect, young, husband. Excuse me, but I have to take an erp break. You see, I have bad memories of this character and this show. My girlfriend at the time, in a glaring departure from reality, instructed me that she wanted me to start acting like Paul Buchman, Reiser’s wonderful, young, husband character in Mad About You who always, and amazingly, had the most perfect things to say and do in the presence of his special, young, wife. His suave perfection was uncanny, almost as if scripted. I said, “Okay, I can do that,” just like it was written in my new life script and then I followed the stage directions to promptly exit stage left for erp break two. Okayee, I can do that (I know, but the absurdity of it bears repeating) and I really want to, just for you, Honey Bunches of Oats. And with that, for better or for worse, the red flag of doom was hoisted high on the horizon of our cute little cup of coffee.
Which then brings us back to Russ, the loveable loser. Why don’t we just let Russ be Russ. For better or for worse, Lina has her Russ, along with the three cute little sugar cubes floating around in their not so steaming cup of coffee. And while I can assure you that Russ will never be richer, I can also assure you that you will not be poorer for checking in on Lina and Russ, even if it is only for a bit of feel-good vindication by comparison.