Bill Burr and Molly Ringwald Made The Most Boring Sitcom Of The '90s
You know those amazing short-lived TV shows that don’t get proper appreciation during their time, but have a cast that basically becomes a who’s-who of the best talent in comedy? I’m talking about programs like Freaks and Geeks or In Living Color – shows that get unjustly canceled, but enjoy a shelf life long past their initial run because their cast members all become massively successful and the strong writing and unique point of view help the series become a cult classic.
Yeah, Townies wasn’t one of those. Despite an absolutely loaded cast led by Molly Ringwald with the support of up-and-comers Bill Burr, Lauren Graham, Ron Livingston, and Jenna Elfman, Townies may have been the most forgettable sitcom of the ‘90s. Created by Emmy-nominated writer and producer Matthew Carlson, who would later serve as executive producer for Malcolm in the Middle, Townies was an earnest attempt to combine the charms of every great sitcom of the decade, but the result was basically what you get when you combine all the sodas at the soda fountain – a confused, unfocused, yet passably palatable product that fails to create something greater than its parts.
Townies gave us a glimpse into the personal and professional lives of a group of working-to-middle-class twenty-somethings in Gloucester, Massachusetts. The show revolved around three friends, Carrie, Shannon, and Denise, played by Ringwald, Elfman, and Graham, respectively, who all work at a diner/restaurant/bar that serves as the hub for the goings-on of the fishing town, much like the Bull & Finch Pub in Cheers.
Bill Burr played Ryan Callahan, Denise’s fiance-turned-husband with whom she has one child. Ron Livinston’s character Curt Pettiglio served as the “will they, won’t they” semi-platonic scene partner to Ringwald’s Carrie – apparently Curt had been Carrie’s “best friend” for years, but he still spends most of his time at the counter of the restaurant pestering Molly Ringwald to go out with him. The boys’ group versus girls’ group dynamic with a snap of sexual tension set up the Friends-style chemistry the showrunners hoped to achieve, just with less – you know – chemistry.
The biggest problem Townies had was how it chose to relate to its setting of Gloucester. Ostensibly, Townies was a show about twenty-somethings from a sleepy New England city who grapple with their choices to stick around in their quaint hometown instead of moving on to a bigger pond. However, save a few fish-themed jokes and nighttime shots of a dock, this show could take place just about anywhere. The plotlines in each episode are the go-to, industry standard sitcom stories – someone has a bachelor party, someone’s troublemaking brother is in town, someone’s dog dies, someone gets a bad haircut, lather, rinse, repeat.
Despite the title of the show, the town of Gloucester itself only served to add New England-themed window-dressing to the series, and the range of fake Boston area accents on Townies really runs the full gamut of believability. Bill Burr is obviously the most natural, himself a Canton native. Ron Livinsgton and Lauren Graham both make a respectable effort but still end up sounding like extras from Good Will Hunting. Jenna Elfman careens wildly between her natural Los Angeles speech pattern and that of a half-drunk New England fisherman, and Molly Ringwald doesn’t bother changing her voice at all.
Sometimes the show attempts to be a working-class comedy in the vein of Roseanne, but it doesn’t ever commit to one thing or another long enough for any shoe to fit. Money always seems to be tight for the main cast, but not tight enough that it distracts them from their constant comments about each other’s love lives and little adventures to the grocery store to showcase their pristine product placement.
Even though the series lacked the focus that would set it up for a second season – or even get through the first one, ABC canceled Townies after just ten episodes – it did have a certain charm that makes you sad that they never could figure out where these characters’ plotlines were going. Bill Burr and Lauren Graham had good chemistry, and the strongest scenes in the show focus on their relationship and the struggles of a young couple starting a family. Ringwald and Livingston’s emotionally charged, non-committal tête-à-têtes threatened to build a “Sam and Diane” storyline that could carry on for couple seasons, but they never quite got there before the ax fell in December 1996, just three months after Townies premiered.
Townies was a project where a bunch of talented people all got together and sadly failed to elevate the material to anything above average. Everyone involved – including the showrunner – would go on to make a name for themselves, with the exception of Molly Ringwald, who was already too big a star to be on a sitcom with no legs. But by attempting to capture the spirit of every other sitcom swirling around the zeitgeist in the mid-to-late ‘90s, Townies fell short of ever distinguishing itself with its own borderline-unintelligible Bostonian voice.
But hey, at least we got plenty of screen time for Bill Burr’s late hair.
Top Image: Vanity Logo Productions
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