Caroline in the City: Season 2
The situation comedy, better known as the sit-com, has been a part of the American television landscape since the very beginning of the format. Actually it dates back to the olden days of radio. Initially most sit-coms were centered on the home life of a family. There was the typical mother, father and at least two or three children. What may not be immediately evident is the sit com has always been a reflection of the current state of our society. That family centric model worked well when the nuclear American family was at its height and most televisions where placed in the living rooms of their homes. Then there was a major shift in the demographics of TV. The children brought up on TV began to grow up and move away from the family home. In the past it was not unusual for young men and women to leave high school marry their boy or girl friends and settle down. As the new millennia approached and increasing number moved away from home for college or to start their own careers away from their parents. This was particularly a change for the young women who now had a generation behind them where the woman was able to think about a career before marriage. Naturally the sit com reflected that in the premises of their stories. In 1999 NBC was fully dedicated to sit-coms as a major portion of their programming. With hits like ‘Friends’ and ‘Frasier’ they virtually owned the format. One addition to their block of sit-coms was ‘Caroline in the City’. It was about a young woman in her late twenties living on her own in Manhattan. She has many of the same problems as her target audience, wanting to balance her career with her search for the right relationship. In a format like this the quirky family members are replaced with a group of close friends. The series started out in the top ten with ratings and did decline over its four year run. I do remember this series in its initial broadcast and syndication and I was always entertained by it. It was usually fresh and innovative and fun to watch and after all that is all you can expect from any sit-com. CBS Paramount currently owns the rights to the series and began to release DVD sets last year and are now up to season two. Those out there unfamiliar with this series should take this opportunity and give it a try on DVD. It is light hearted fun that will not disappoint.
When a network considers the pitch for a new sit-com the first thing they look at is the record of success of its creator. Track With the case of this show its lineage is impeccable. James Burrows has a proven track record with some of the most well received and popular sit-coms in history including ‘Friends’, ‘Cheers’, ‘Wings’ and ‘Frasier’. When Burrows comes into the office of the network executives they sit up and listen carefully. The core of any successful sit-com is the ability to draw interesting characters that will hold up when placed in completely ridiculous situations. This was where Burrows was a genius. There is a central cast here of five people, the optimal number to create comical conflict since it allows for dialogue between members of two opposing factions and one odd man out. The titular character is Caroline Duffy (Lea Thompson) who was born and raised in rural American in a small town in Wisconsin but now earns a living as a cartoonist working from her loft in Manhattan. Her comic strip is called ‘Caroline in the City’ and is a humorous look at her personal situation. She is fairly successful in her career, enough so that in the first season she hired an assistant to work as her colorist, the person that adds color to her drawings to produce the finished comic strip. Getting the job is Richard Karinsky (Malcolm Gets) who is an aspiring artist and is prone to an extremely sarcastic outlook on life. While Caroline lives in relative luxury, a loft in Manhattan is not cheap; Richard lives in much poorer neighborhood in a dilapidated tenement. One important thing in a modern sit-com is the sexual tension created by unrequited love. There is a running joke with fans of the genre that once the star crossed couple is allowed to get together the series is doomed. In this show the tension was prolonged naturally with excellent results. Richard falls in love with Caroline but she always seems to be in a reasonably stable relationship. Unlike a lot of series of this type the writers tended towards giving Caroline a main boyfriend for much of a season instead of having her hop from one failed relationship to another. For that type of character they created Caroline’s next door neighbor and best friend Annie Spadaro (Amy Pietz). Annie is a dancer working on the long running Broadway show ‘Cats’ but after a failed attempt in Hollywood comes back to New York and is chronically unemployed. A running gag for the show, especially handled by Richard, is Annie’s perchance for dating a lot of men and bedding more than a few. Some of the best quips in the series is contained in their constant banter. Del Cassidy (Eric Lutes) is wealthy, successful and handsome. He works for at his father’s greeting card company and has remained a good friend of Caroline even after their romantic relationship waned. One thing that is typical of the late nineties that is shown here is the growing trend of working from home. Caroline didn’t have a separate office and home and the need to combine the two is a frequent source of humor. This also opened the way for the required ‘nut job’ character that has been a staple of the sit-com since its inception. The role is filled by Charlie (Andy Lauer) a bike messenger who takes Caroline’s strip to the publisher. He has almost no grasp on reality and seems happy to live in his own, strange world.
This second season starts off with the romantic mayhem that began at the end of the first season. Richard has quit his job working for Caroline and has moved to Paris for his art career but fails completely. Caroline was about to marry Del but that also fails. Richard had written a letter confessing his feelings for Caroline but it is intercepted by Annie who will later use it to blackmail Richard once he returns to New York. Caroline’s beloved cat is knocked out of the window by Richard’s replacement, Charlie, which leads her to meet a handsome veterinarian Joe DeStefano (Mark Feuerstein) who becomes her boyfriend for much of the season. That is until Caroline discovers that he cheated on her by sleeping with his ex-girlfriend. When Richard returns he is unable to face Caroline and takes a low level job in an ice cream parlor and his new apartment is worse than the last. Del has a fight with his father over the marketing of Caroline’s strip and is replaced by his sister. In this season most of the characters are in the state of constant flux. Finding love and keeping a job is the major concern for most and this stuck a chord with the target audience of young urban people. This is what made this series a lot of fun; it was crazy but well rooted in reality.
This may not have been the most popular series in the lauded stable of Burrows comedies but it is well worth having for those times when you want to sit back and enjoy something different. CBS Paramount is great that way. They have a TV series on DVD for just about every taste.