The return to old shows, in the sense of actual continuations, is a strange new twist in the catalog, but one that makes a lot of sense. New shows are hard to get off the ground, and having a built-in audience from day one is a selling point that’s hard to ignore when you’re up against hundreds of channels. Now comes Mad About You, a Spectrum Originals venture, and it has its own unique excuse to take us back to the Buchman apartment in New York City. That isn’t a necessary feature of such a return exactly, but it’s an interesting jumping off point.
We return to the lives of Paul (Paul Reiser) and Jamie (Helen Hunt) as Mabel (Abby Quinn) is preparing to leave for college… five blocks away. The series kicks off with a lot of its focus aimed squarely at convincing us that we’re going to get the same Buchmans we remember, though there are a few new quirks to them. But, even those new quirks feel rather familiar. It might seem surprising that Jamie becomes the sort of mother who can’t let her daughter go, making several return trips to Mabel’s dorm within days of her leaving, but once you think about it, maybe it’s actually rather in character.
Mabel’s departure, and therefore Paul and Jamie facing their empty-nester status, takes up the lion’s share of the focus, and shenanigans, for the first few episodes, but we increasingly turn our eye toward the erosion of the show’s title. The original series kicked off in 1992, and it’s no surprise that we might need to revisit being “Mad About You” over 25 years later.
What made the original show something worthy of its foothold in the cultural consciousness was simply Paul and Jamie reacting to a variety of life’s trivialities, and frequently giving us surprising reasons to believe that things we mostly ignore are a lot more important than we think. An only child leaving for college isn’t among life’s lesser events, but the myriad minutiae involved in reinventing yourself, or reconnecting with someone, is the Buchman sweet spot. Perhaps the best moments in the new show revolve around conversations that are seemingly impossible. With Paul and Jamie, such conversations are natural and charming, and often include things like, “Well, she’s Italian… so you have to factor that in.”
That ability to talk through and around things has always been the heart of Mad About You‘s appeal, which is ultimately a kind of dissection of the love affair between two people who never seemed to actually get along very well. That heart remains, but now we’re using a slightly different lens on slightly different people. As simple and obvious as that seems, it becomes the key to the relevance of the series, delivering the return to something fans are obviously expecting, but infusing that familiarity with a believable twenty years of growth and change. When Jamie takes Mabel’s leaving in stride, that’s the Jamie we remember. That’s the Jamie who compartmentalizes and rationalizes, and rolls her eyes at Paul. When she doesn’t, in fact, handle things as stoically as she might wish, that’s the reality that you can’t raise a child and come out the other side unscathed. That’s the relevance of learning where these characters are now.
Mainstays of the format also help audiences reconnect, whether that means the return of a host of actors – including Richard Kind and John Pankow – or Paul’s catchphrases (“This is what I’m saying.”), and the resulting flow is little different than if the show had been on the air straight through. The only real question is whether or not the show still delivers, and it does. It isn’t quite as “zingy,” though it tries like hell, and certain elements, like obnoxious sisters, don’t land as well, but it’s a show that still defines “must watch TV.”