terrific Dharma and Greg reminds us of the time in which it was
first broadcast, the late nineties; an era not so far away, yet compared to what
was to come, now seems like a million years ago, a tranquil oasis of nice
If we miss
the Clinton years now, watch this DVD and miss him a lot more. Little did we
know what horror lie ahead, both in real life and on the tube. With a
national scandal no more ridiculous and stupid than Monica Lewinsky,
and with Must-See TV hits and
misses coming at us from all angles,
seemed more appropriate and welcome then. If you listen closely, you can
even hear internet jokes, being that the technology was new and just barely
familiar, making it hip to mention, appreciated by those few already in the
itself worked because it played a pinball game full-tilt on cultural
stereotypes, without apology. That it was infused with sharp and smart
writing is what tallied up the extra bonus points. You've got all your bases
covered here, from the overworked yuppie to
the earth-mother hippie chick.
It's a winning mixture of high-fives and deep, cleansing breaths.
As well, you
have the WASPy captain of industry who is ineffectual at home (during one of
the many family spats, he pleads, "Can we move this along? I'm starting to
sober up."); the aging revolutionary (ponytail included) whose former
hideouts are now all Starbucks (when his daughter finally gets a checking
account, he protests, "you're on the grid now!"); the pent-up,
frat-boy-turned-lawyer who finds himself crying at an AT&T commercial
("excuse me for having a pulse!" he defends himself); and the high-class
snob/matron whose unhappiness is just begging to be the butt of all jokes
(regarding the last episode of Seinfeld, she says, "Everybody's at
home watching that show about the Jewish fellow.")
The only new
wrinkle here is Dharma's best friend, a weird grrrrrl who lives and
dresses far outside the mainstream, with rules that only apply to her own
universe (she picks up
men at Star Trek conventions, not because she is a Trekkie, but
because she is into middle-aged virgins).
seem to go very deep, and, of course, that's what makes her appear deeper
than anyone else in the cast. Most everyone finds her scary. Almost ten
years later, even this character is more or less stereotyped, but at the
time it was a good, new call.
of the series starts to dance on the wrong foot, but catches itself soon
enough. Its intro is all cutesy-sitcom, playing on the idea of kismet and
karma: a couple who are completely not right for each other and are polar
opposites in temperament, taste and social stature, meet and marry within
hours, to the horror of two sets of socially diametric parents. Okay, but
the conflicts and the laughs kick in on their own sweet schedule, and we are
spared the tiresome will-they-or-won't-they cha-cha that sitcom writers seem
to love, even though a longer courtship would have been more believable.
said, the show still knows what it's
doing. With a premise that could have been downloaded from any
fish-out-of-water story, we are told for the billionth time that love
conquers all, and that everything else (disapproval, snobbery, political
opinion, lifestyle) is just mild distraction. There is the blatantly unreal:
a U.S. attorney, with an eye on a run for Congress,
unpredictable, essentially strange woman whom he doesn't know. And this is
in an age when a public figure's slightest indiscretions are X-rayed. This
is followed by the even more blatantly unreal: a
heat-seeking missile named Dharma Finkelstein, who makes herself at home in
an abandoned battery factory and calls her parents by their first names, is
so tolerant of man and beast that she'll even be patient with and
affectionate toward a dry, workaholic yuppie with practically no
As the DVD
box claims, "it's New Age versus old school;" sitcom formula at its most
conventional, but watch how they bend it and shape it to their advantage.
in perfect casting helps the stereotypes to sound off in distinct pitches
all their own. The mothers, for example, are extremes of hot and cold. The
earth mother chants phrases that would irritate anywhere else, but are
downright hilarious here: "Dharma, I'm seeing feelings but I'm not hearing
them;" or "when we compete, we don't complete," or most excellently, "we
should never have had this conversation with Mars in retrograde."
yang side, the WASPY society matron, handled with graceful expertise by
Susan Sullivan, is practically a reincarnation of Margaret Dumont from the
old Marx Brothers' flicks, the easy foil. When asked where the potato masher
is, she retorts, "I told you, I gave her the day off." Or when Dharma
complains that her high-class shoes pinch, the mother-in-law replies,
"They're supposed to pinch, they're Italian."
surprise is Joel Murray (yes, Bill Murray's younger brother) as Pete, the
best friend of the groom, the sexist who is most unfamiliar with sexual
politics. Like Frasier and
Niles' father, Pete is the regular guy we can most
relate to; he both accentuates and leverages the exaggeration of the other
characters. When asked for advice on how to deal with a woman's period, he
replies, "I don't know. I've never had a relationship that lasted more than
Of course, a
sitcom wouldn't be a sitcom without its glaring oversights. Greg marries
Dharma for the woman that she is, and then essentially wants her to change
into a totally different person, as part of a vision for his political gain.
This seems especially real when he makes a run for the U.S. Congress in a
time when sex scandal and peccadilloes are on the radar.
Dharma, for all of her tree-hugging alternative lifestyle, seems to be
easily impressed by wealth and creature comfort, and cleans up nicely when
she's forced to dress and act like a Congressman's spouse. They don't play
the "My Fair Lady" card too often, but when they do, it's loads of fun, and
it's very possible that we could actually use a little bit of Dharma's
influence on Congress (her name means "the ultimate truth of all things.").
PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved.
Posted: November 18, 2006.