She’s with child… and pregnant, too.
Billie (Jenna Elfman, Looney Tunes: Back in Action) is a film critic working for a San Francisco newspaper. For years, she was dating her self-absorbed but stylishly wealthy boss James (Grant Show, Private Practice), but dumped him after he repeatedly refused to take things to the next level. One night, Billie goes out to bar, gets a little tipsy, meets a cute young guy named Zack (Jon Foster, Pandorum) and takes him home for a one-night stand. Billie realizes this was probably a bad idea—she’s 37, Zack is 22 and she’s not a fan of one-night stands in general—but hey, it was fun, right? Billie and Zack continue to see each other now and then, maintaining a “for sexual purposes only” sort of relationship.
Fast forward a few weeks. Billie discovers she is pregnant with Zack’s child. Alarmed but unwilling to consider the possibility of giving up the baby, Billie determines that she’s going to make the best of this new situation. She ends her romantic relationship with Zack, but invites him to live in her house so he can prepare to be a part of their child’s life. So begins a wild, wacky ride of personal growth and crazy misunderstandings.
All eighteen episodes of Accidentally on Purpose are spread across two discs:
• One Night Stand
• The Date
• The Love Guru
• Fight Club
• The Godfather
• The Third Man
• Working Girl
• It Happened One Christmas
• The Odd Couples
• The Rock
• Attack of the 50 Foot Woman
• Back to School
• Face Off
• Speed 2
The basic premise of Accidentally on Purpose may sound a bit like a minor variation on Judd Apatow’s Knocked Up (successful career woman is accidentally impregnated by a young slob who needs to learn to grow up), but that doesn’t automatically make it a bad idea. On the contrary, taking the premise of Knocked Up and exploring it over the course on an ongoing television series could be a perfectly good idea. Unfortunately, Accidentally on Purpose does a poorer job of employing its own premise to successful effect than any comedy in recent memory. That isn’t to say it’s the worst comedy in recent memory; simply that the show is so much less than it could have been.
First off, let’s examine one of the absurd central story elements: after Billie finds out that Zack got her pregnant, she (A) breaks up with him and (B) invites him to move in with her? What reasonable human being would ever consider such a thing? It’s one thing to break up with a guy and still invite him to be a part of the baby’s life—”come to the Lamaze classes and the doctor’s appointments” might seem reasonable, but “why don’t you move in with me?” Only a third-rate sitcom could come up with that idea.
Of course, the entire set-up is designed to fuel an endless series of conflicts between the two principle characters. While they may say they’re perfectly cool with the other person seeing other people and carrying on other relationships, they secretly get jealous every time the other person sets up a date. Cue the frantic, “I’ve got to find a way to mess up her date so she doesn’t sleep with that guy, but I can’t let her know I don’t want her to sleep with him!” subplot. The basic premise fueling this stuff is dumb enough, but the characters are frequently required to be flat-out stupid in order to entangle themselves in some of the “comical” misunderstandings the show has to offer.
Then there’s Zack’s immaturity to deal with. In almost every episode, Zack will make a series of increasingly dumb decisions that slowly raise Billie’s anger level to a boiling point. Even by typical man-child standards, this guy’s pretty dim…seriously, you invite all your frat boy friends over to the house, mess everything up, tear off the refrigerator door and then expect everything to be okay? Then, at the last minute, Zack will make some romantic gesture that heals the relationship and saves the day. This leaves poor Jenna Elfman with the unenviable task of going through the same tedious, “You irritate me, I hate you, GOD I HATE YOU, LEAVE THE HOUSE—wait you painted the baby’s room today? Awwwww! C’mere, dude,” routine over and over again. It’s no surprise the show was cancelled, given its repetitive nature and thinly-written comedy.
Elfman is easily the biggest name on the program, but her character is such a disappointment. The idea of having a film critic as the central character in a sitcom only works if you actually explore that idea every now and then, but Accidentally on Purpose mostly ignores her profession aside from tossing in an occasional Meg Ryan reference. Billie seems to go into work at the same time each day and sits down at her desk to do…what, exactly? When does she see all of these movies? What is she reviewing? Elfman starts Billie at “high-pitched and flustered” and moves up the scale from there, creating a character that’s difficult to spend long amounts of time with.
Jon Foster is merely okay in the role of Zack, not really bringing enough reckless personality to the table for me to buy him in the part. Grant Show is equally “meh” as Billie’s boss, bringing little of the nuance and zeal he demonstrated in CBS’ ambitious, short-lived Swingtown. I was pleased to see Ashley Jenson of Extras and Ugly Betty onhand, but she (and pretty much every other supporting character) gets little to do aside from spew out ungainly zingers.
The DVD transfer is thoroughly mediocre, which I suppose is what happens when you try to stuff 18 22-minute episodes onto two DVDs. Detail is surprisingly horrible for a 2010 release, giving us an image that looks no better than it would on standard-def television. Audio is fine, with a sturdy music track, minimal sound design and clean dialogue. Supplements include a handful of engaging featurettes: “Mary Pols: The Real Billie Chase” (10 minutes), “Best of Lunch with Nic and Jon” (10 minutes), “An Unconventional Behind the Scenes Documentary” (20 minutes) and “The Bro-Partment” (5 minutes). Finally, you get a 3-minute gag reel.
Note: The series was cancelled at the conclusion of the first season, which seems to have put the folks designing the DVD packaging in an awkward situation. Rather than dubbing this set “The First Season” or “The Complete Series” or “The Complete Collection,” this set is officially titled Accidentally on Purpose: The DVD Edition. Okay, fine.
Unimaginative and tiresome, Accidentally on Purpose is a series that deserved to fail.