Rude Awakening (1998–2001)
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The topic and the way it was handled seemed realistic to me. I don't have much knowledge about the AA or alcoholism, but it just rang true to me how Billie's lifelong addiction and relapse was portrayed as an ongoing problem she needs to work against her whole life. On so many shows, you have this token alcoholic character (soap operas in particular) who goes on a drinking binge in one episode and recovers in the next. This show dared to show a more accurate portrayal: the long-term effects, the desperation for a fix and the ugliness of it all wasn't glossed over. It's a daring topic especially for a comedy, but they pulled it off. I felt like I could see life through the eyes of an alcoholic - and be entertained at the same time. Kudos.
When the show stopped being about the AA and decided to "move on" into Dave's bar, it got blah for me. Some of the edge was lost when it was no longer about addiction. It turned into a relationship comedy instead, and that is the end of many fine shows. Haley was cute, but essentially just a babbling, bumbling character who didn't add much to the mix. Tim Curry as Trudy's new boyfriend was good, but not good enough to keep the show funny. And what was all that crap about Marcus and his marriage crisis? Hey, let's add a new character who looks good without a shirt. Oh look, his wife's a bitch! Don't you wish we made an episode all about him? The last season was full of "emotional" moments that just seemed sappy to me. The whole marriage plot was the worst. The irony is that when the show dealt with genuine difficult things and touching themes, it was never sappy. When it started to deal with "touching" imaginary situations and love triangles, it lost its edge and became a sappy regular comedy. The only interesting theme in the last season was that Trudy was facing the truth about her addiction - but would she be funny anymore if she quit drinking? I doubt it. Characters like her don't need a "serious" side; they're tragic in themselves, that's why they're funny.
But the last season can't wipe away what this show did in the first ones. One of the most daring and genuine comedies I've ever seen. Highly recommended.
They also show the other side of alcoholism; the addiction and dependency on the alcohol which is wonderfully played by Lynn Redgrave. Trudy Frank (Lynn) is a hilarious drunk who loves young men and sex. Lynn alone adds a bit of class to this wonderfully frank show, even though her character is anything but the perfect mother.
Jonathon Penner is also excellent as Dave, who owns a coffee shop and is a recovering alcoholic himself. Mario VanPeebles is also featured.
The material is a look at addiction, sex, and dysfunctional families, filtered through a sitcom sensibility. Sherilyn Fenn's Billie Frank is habitually self-destructive, with a gift for making the wrong choice at every given opportunity, and most of the addiction, sex, and dysfunction revolves around her.
What makes Billie a watchable, sympathetic creation is her ability to spot her own culpability in her failures, and her sputtering, stuttering romance with Jonathan Penner's Dave. Penner gets a lot of mileage out of the show's thinnest major character, the owner of a coffee shop and the person who helped guide Billie into a 12-step program, but his function is mostly just to stand around and trade hyper-sexual barbs with Fenn.
Lynn Redgrave, on the other hand, is in full diva mode with Trudy, Bille's mother. And it is indeed a sight to behold; intensely, bitingly funny, cruel, and relentlessly self-involved, Trudy is a work of art. Unlike her daughter, Redgrave's character has no saving grace, but somehow remains the most compelling thing on the screen at any given moment.
Without question, RA's run has been uneven. When it wanders away from its central themes, the show can easily begin to look like the most painful sort of cable comedy, with little more than explicit language but like its main character, when "Rude Awakening" finds its feet and takes a clear-eyed look at where it is and where it hopes to go, it can make for a funny, intense half-hour of entertainment.
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The guest stars are a nice treat. I especially love the episodes with Roger Daltrey.