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The sign in John Hemmingway's office said it all: "This Is A Dark Ride."
Hemmingway, played by John Larroquette, was a recovering alcoholic
struggling to right himself in, of all places, a bus station in St. Louis.
The first year of this show was absolutely brilliant, with a tremendously
talented ensemble cast and decidedly sharp and intelligent scripts that
almost went out of their way to challenge ethnic and social mores. Come
what other sitcom boasted a hooker as a regular?
Then came the trademark NBC meddling. Apparently, NBC thought they had a potential "Cheers"-in-a-bus-station on their hands and immediately pressured the show's producers to lighten the mood of the show considerably, effectively ripping out the heart of what made the show so memorable. Beginning in the second season, John moved from the depressing dump he was living in into a high scale apartment, which just so happened to be across the hall from a nurse played by Allison LaPaca and the obligatory relationship ensues. Now, LaPaca's crooked smile and stiff acting has killed numerous sitcoms but I should say this one wasn't entirely her fault... The surrounding characters lost their edginess -- the hooker became a respectable bar owner, the sharp-tongued, streetwise food counter owner became your basic wiseguy buddy, and so on. Suddenly, the dark and intelligent comedy is your standard relationship sitcom with stereotypical characters and scripts seemingly right out of "Three's Company" without the lovable campiness. It wasn't really bad but it was a mere shadow of its former self.
In the aftermath of all this tinkering, the show lost many of the viewers it attracted in its first season and became so bland it failed to attract new viewers. NBC, forever unwilling to admit its meddling ruined the show, unceremoniously cancelled The John Larroquette Show a few episodes into its fourth season. A sure television tragedy if there ever was one, as that first season should go down in the annals of television history as one of the greatest seasons ever for a sitcom.
I really liked this show during it's first season. It even had a local
connection for me. The outside of the "bus station" was actually the
historic railroad passenger terminal here in Sacramento.
The show was funniest in it's first year, because it showed him trying to balance recovering from alcoholism while managing this madhouse of a bus station on the graveyard shift. The alcoholism made for some very dark, (but very funny) humour.
A good example of the dark humour is when a robber is holding a gun on Larroquette and the black food counter owner (can't remember the character's name), the black guy says to the robber, "Shoot him (pointing at Larroquette) he's white." Larroquette responds "No. Shoot him (pointing at the black guy). You'll do less time." Edgy, but funny!
After the first season, they almost completely discarded the "recovering alcoholic theme" making it an OK show. But without the dark comedy of the alcoholism theme, it made it just another sitcom.
The show "held on" for one more year, and then pretty much floundered after that.
I leave the rating of 'ten' in spite of what privations the series was
forced to suffer in its second season. That is because the characters
were do wonderful and the writing so wonderfully clever. I set my watch
by this show during its woefully short existence. I wanted so badly to
see it go on.
The show is set in a bus station in St. Louis; a terrific place for plot twists involving for a recovering alcoholic. (I am one and I howled each week at how dead-on the humor here was.)As Mahalia, the assistant to John, who is forced to take this job, Liz Torres was a past favorite second (or third) banana and stole every scene she was in during this series.
The show took chances and it paid off. It had a young black activist-oriented loudmouth constantly zinging John from the café in the bus station. There was a skinny, rather lesbians female Barney Fife of a cop and her rough and tough closet gay macho man partner. Not least was a hip, happening hooker who John would just not wake up and give a serious tumble to. We all wanted to. What was wrong with the guy? And, last but by no means insignificantly, is David Crosby as John's AA sponsor. He added not only verisimilitude, but the Kind of 'stop whistling past a grave yard' gallows humor AA is famous for.
This tiny, but powerful weekly delight had a constant passing through of some of the finest actors in television and movies gladly peppering this jewel of a show with dynamite cameo performances.
We are all sad when a television show we love bites the dust, no matter when it happens. In this case, I was bitter and still am. Why couldn't they just leave this show alone and let it gain its audience?
Unique, funny and pure genius. This show was the perfect forum for Larroquette's abilities and he played extremely well off of the other actors. I still hold a grudge against NBC for changing, then changing, then changing, then cancelling the show. If it had not been constantly tinkered-with and toned down, it might still be running. I mean, how many comedic programs deal with a recovering alcoholic and have a prostitute as a character? With the recent explosion of television programs dealing with darker content, it's easy to see that this show was ahead of its time. I'd love to get the DVDs, though NBC may not release them.
I haven't seen this since it was first-run, but it made an impression on me. This was a great show, especially the first season. Very funny, very dark. The acerbic JL was a great match for the material, and given his personal difficulties in the 80's, he personally must have been able to relate to the character, a last-chance alcoholic working graveyard in a bus station. I remember the show as having a great, dark tone that you usually didn't see in sitcoms, more so than Night Court, which erred on the slapstick side. The first season of the show I remember as having no fear dealing with 'John Hemingway's dark side, and his alcoholism. The plots often portrayed a similar cast of midnight nutballs, loonies, the down-on-their-luck and some out-and-out losers. But, while redemption was a ways away, JL's character was on the upward path. It was good to see them deal with and not shy away from people's real problems. The teeth of the show got pulled later... Unfortunately after the show's first season of moderate success, the network (or somebody) decided that it needed to be a bit more family-friendly or something and added Alison La Placa as a love interest, and made the tone and lighting a bit brighter. Too bad, as there was plenty of patina in the station and among the great cast of characters including Dary' (no more 'chill'?) Mitchell as the put- upon Dexter, the reliable Chi McBride, Liz Torres, and especially Elizabeth Berridge as the too-cute-for-a-cop Officer Eggers. I wonder if she would have ended up as the love interest had they not brought in La Placa. Anyways, we really need season one on DVD.
As has been mentioned before, this show had the potential to become another one of the big hits that NBC had in its stable. Everything about this show in the first season made it worth tuning in without fail every week. The problem came when in the second season, NBC decided to tone down the show, changing the entire storyline, and really trashing a great show. Cleaning up not only the rough and gritty setting, but changing the characters; what a shame. Basically, the end result is what would have happened to the film Heavy Metal if it were re-shot and re-cut, and edited by Disney. If Larroquette ever comes out on DVD, I'll buy just the first season. As I'm sure many others would as well.
From the start "The John Larroquette Show", was bright, literate, willing to touch on sensitive issues, and hilarious to boot. But its audience was marginal by network standards, and each year it received a makeover in hopes of boosting the ratings. Season launching episodes were not at all subtlety titled "Changes", "More Changes", and "Even More Changes" as fair warning to long time viewers. By the beginning of the fourth and final season "The John Larroquette Show" had in many ways become indistinguishable from the rest of prime time television. Still quite funny thanks to a very talented collection of actors and writers, but its rough edge was gone.
Sometimes when I think of "The John Larroquette Show", it depresses me. It depresses me because a hundred years from now, when critics talk about "television of the 1990's", it is such a shame that they will talk bout shows like "Friends", "Seinfeld", and all of their imitators, and that this brilliant, darkly hilarious and inventive masterpiece will go virtually unnoticed. I won't say that this show was ahead of it's time, because no show has dared venture into these waters, neither before or since. This was probably the bravest situation comedy ever to go on the air. Where shows like "Friends" wanted us to sympathize with people who, even at their very worst, were far better off than anybody watching could possibly be, this show went the other way, showing us people who were no doubt worse off than most, yet still finding a way to laugh and embrace their lots in life, which made our laughter actually MEAN something. The Friends characters were gorgeous on the outside, callous and shallow on the inside. The characters here were ugly on the outside, and absolutely glowing on the inside, and the perfect combination of writing and acting brought that out. There is one episode that personifies this notion perfectly: An abandoned baby is found in a dumpster. (name another sitcom that would dare to find the humor in this). The seedy people in the seedy St. Louis bus station take turns watching it. There is one scene that is so true, and so real, and so heartwarming. The janitor Heavy Gene (played by Chi McBride), sits alone in the bar with the baby in his arms, as he gently sings Danny Boyto the child. The scene has nothing to do with any kind of narrative, and it doesn't push the plot of the episode in any specific direction. It's just a moment, that's all it is. A moment that gives the audience a microscope into the soul of a character that would never exist in any other sitcom, other than to be ridiculed or used for comic relief. The John Larroquette Show is filled with moments like this. We get to laugh and cry with an alcoholic, a hooker, a hobo, a janitor, a food-counter owner, a single Latino secretary, and others. We feel their pain without them asking us to. We feel their pain by laughing with them. None of them are stupid, or ditsy, or manipulative. They are just real. In it's second season, this show turned into what it so daringly avoided in it's first season, and became "Cheers" in a bus station. But the first season, quite frankly, is the best full season of television I have ever seen. I hope someone digs up the masters of this show and makes it available to be seen again. So much can be learned about life, and television, from this absolutely beautiful show.
I have such fond memories of this show. I don't know if I would find it as funny now, but when it was out my brother and I never missed an episode. It's nice to see that just about all of the lead cast is still working today too. I would love to see at least the first season out on DVD sometime. I would recommend this show to everyone that likes John Larouquette. This role was made for him and it played very well with the occasional drama but mostly the great hearty laughs. My favorite characters were John of course and the two cops that barely ever worked. They ate lots of food and donut's and the two played off each other wonderfully. I don't even know if there are re-runs of this anywhere. It got the required four years but I have never seen it in syndication, which IMO is a total shame.
The first season of Laroquette was, at least in my view, one of the
most inventive and funny series on TV. A dark, dry and offbeat
worldview pervaded the stories and the cast sold just incredible
dialogue with rare verve and honesty.
I agree with the other reviewers, however, that later seasons became mundane and weak as they tried to broaden the show's appeal beyond the narrow group of devotees who found it during the first season.
I mean, my god, the episode where an employee from the U.S. Bureau of Weights and Measures passed through the bus station with the official inch measure of the United States and he asked John to watch the measure while he went to the men's room. Naturally, John became curious about it and, ultimately, wound up damaging the official inch measure. It was hilarious.
Or the episode where a teenage boy was at the bus station being transported back to his home in the rural south after running away from a sheriff's daughter. He was going to be sent to prison (unjustly) it turned out, when the local prostitute (a regular on the show) said she could tell he was a virgin. He admitted to this, and the cast decided that they would get together and hire the prostitute to "service him" before he went to prison. Unfortunately, the bounty hunter who was escorting him, wouldn't remove the handcuffs he had on the boy for the time he was to be serviced. So all you saw was this bounty hunter standing in John's office doorway with his arm flailing up and down in the door as the act was consumated. It was blindingly funny.
If there is any justice in this world, or appreciation for true dark humor, the powers that be will release at least the first season DVD.
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