The Nanny is a
series that is sure to turn off a large portion of the population
immediately. How unfortunate. It’s so much better than the initial
impression it makes. For a show that celebrates life on the shallow surface,
it should not be dismissed as such.
urbane, super-sitcomy, oy-vey version of The Sound of Music
hits the bulls’ eye on so many levels, thanks mostly to the charm and
tongue-in-cheekiness of its star, Fran Drescher. Her powerful charisma
carries what could have otherwise been a teeth-gritting disaster.
Playing a street-tough Jewish girl from Queens who finds herself as a stylin’ nanny in the WASPy world of
Upper-East-Side Manhattan, Drescher is flooring it in the driver’s seat from
start to finish. It’s the role of a lifetime, and she knows it. She milks it
for all its worth, and winks at us because we’re watching her be aware of
her good fortune – both in real life and on the series – and we’re cheering
her on. However, listen to her DVD commentary, and you’ll quickly learn that
this articulate, smart businesswoman is no mere nanny from the block.
is a fish-out-of-water story that is all about the fish who refuses to be
out of water. As Fran the nanny, Drescher wears her Jewishness as a badge of
honor. Unlike other Jewish-themed sitcoms and its codified characters that
hide or neutralize its Jewishness (even the brilliant and brash Seinfeld
is guilty of this), The Nanny takes its Jewish stereotypes to
extremes never before seen on TV. Even Rhoda Morgenstern (played by a
non-Jewish Valerie Harper on The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Rhoda)
barely acknowledged her ethnicity. Here, Drescher pays homage to her
heritage every five minutes (though only as seriously as a Catskills comic).
before have Yiddish words been used on a mainstream sitcom so openly and
without shame (The WASPy family bears witness to her phrases -- like
plotz, kvell, oy, and you got a little schmutz on your
face – and then they eventually use the infectious words themselves,
making for double-sided comedy.).
the blatant stereotyping will have its detractors. The series is a walking
advertisement for one-dimensionalness, pulling off all the plastic
slipcovers – the usual suspects are brought out of mothballs, from bagels
and lox to white sales, leopard prints and Christmas in Miami. When
confronting the inevitable Christmas-versus-Hanukah conversation, Fran says
of Santa Claus, “I believe in anyone that delivers.” And when the little
girl says to her physician, “I don’t want a gentle doctor,” Fran corrects
her with, “that’s gentile.”
there is real feeling here. The children are often a necessary evil from
which to schlep along the weekly plots; however, they have an authentic need
for this colorful woman who sashays into their lives like a
Lucille-Ball-like Mae West, and its effects are warming and winning.
real story is that the nanny and her employer will fall in love, and like
most will-they-or-won’t-they storylines on television, it’s unnaturally
prolonged. The children quickly become an afterthought, but when they are
used correctly, it’s sweet and believable.
almost every opportunity to go for the funny-bone, it’s a score. There are
always some mild clunkers (“I love your steaks,” Fran says to the Duke of
Salisbury), but then the ball is quickly picked up, with true radiance (She
asks her mother, “Why can’t I find someone like [dad]? Deaf and on a
pension?” Her mother reassures her with, “you will.”)
teaches her proper charges how to buy from QVC. She educates them with
endless stories about her creaky relatives. She instructs the teenaged
daughter, “the secret to blush is ‘less is more.’ The exact opposite of hair
spray.” And when they turn to American history, Fran observes of the
Pilgrims, “very few people can wear a big hat, a big collar and a big
just feels right.
blue-collar-meets-blue-blood concept flips back and forth evenly. Every
actor seems to relish his or her role, making for snappy repartee in a
perfect plot. As the droll butler, Niles,
actor Daniel Davis takes dry cattiness to appointment-television status,
while the Cruella DeVil of the series, C.C.
Babcock (Lauren Lane)
has big fun as the easy foil.
love weddings,” C.C. proclaims, while her
tormentor, Niles, responds with, “we all want what we can’t have.” Me-ow.
And in a rare moment of intolerance, Fran melts down in front of her
employer with, “How do we know what you British are feeling? What, do you
wear mood rings?”
the 1990s, when television sitcoms were showing us new and bold, The
Nanny was decidedly old-fashioned and retro. It even resorted to using
happy-to-be-anywhere guest stars, like Dan Aykroyd, Twiggy and Rita Moreno
(who even sang a line from West Side Story: “a boy like that, who killed
your brudder…”). The show would devolve in seasons to come, but slowly
and lazily. What does it matter – who doesn’t love a good fairy tale?
series proves that any spin on The Beverly Hillbillies can work well,
even the kosher plate.
All rights reserved. Posted: September 14, 2005.