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What Hath Millennials Wrought: “Melissa & Joey” Returns

By Sarah Carlson | TV | June 30, 2011 |

By Sarah Carlson | TV | June 30, 2011 |

The simple trick of Woody Allen’s latest and beautiful film, Midnight in Paris, is having his viewers fall for the precise nostalgia trap he’s warning us about — that longing to go back to another era we feel must have been better than our present one, even if the residents of back then also are looking at the past. It crosses generations, Allen points out, an interesting “grass is always greener” approach to time no matter when that time was. A modern-day American writer, Gil (Owen Wilson), longs to live in Jazz-age 1920s Paris, while a woman he meets during his mysterious visits to that era thinks Paris was at its best during La Belle Époque, namely the 1870s-’80s. Gil gets to learn his lessons about looking back the magical way, what with middle-of-the-night adventures with a young Ernest Hemingway, Salvador Dali, Cole Porter and F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald. But it’s that magic that viewers love and is what had my friends and I immediately calling for trips to Paris, preferably if time travel is involved. We can’t help it — nostalgia is addictive, and it’s hard to remember only to take it in doses.

Us Millennials are having our own problems with nostalgia as we grow closer to or have just passed 30 and have the (debatable) fortune of writing for entertainment publications that target readers akin to ourselves. Our romanticized past is much lower-brow than Allen’s, however. Give us the 1980s and ’90s of America, please, preferably if shopping malls, multi-camera family sitcoms and original “Behind the Music” episodes are involved. Our favorite age is gilded in neon, adorned with scrunchies and set to tunes by Snap! It’s not because our childhood eras were that much greater or more creative; we simply lived through them with innocent eyes and a freedom from the responsibilities that keep cramping our 21st-century style. “All That” was all that because we weren’t old enough to drink.

The ABC Family show “Melissa & Joey,” starring ’90s TV darlings Melissa Joan Hart (“Clarissa Explains It All,” “Sabrina the Teenage Witch”) and Joey Lawrence (“Blossom,” “Brotherly Love”), seems designed with my generation in mind. Hart plays zany councilwoman Melissa in Toledo, Ohio, who is raising her niece, Lennox (Taylor Spreitler), and nephew, Ryder (Nick Robinson), with the help of their nanny, Joey (Lawrence). It’s sweet, simple and a classic set-up, a family comedy where the action stays mainly in a home’s living room and kitchen. A voiceover at each beginning assures us the show was filmed in front of a live studio audience. “Melissa & Joey,” which returned from a long hiatus Wednesday night, does have an appealing quality to it, a departure from the more ironic single-camera comedies that have populated the airwaves since the 2000s. Lawrence proves he has surprising comedic timing, as does the young Robinson. Hart at times seems to be on fast-forward, her expressions and mannerisms almost spastic, but her pairing with Lawrence reminds viewers why they were once teen idols.

Their new vehicle resembles shows such as “Family Matters,” “Full House” and “Step By Step,” down to the silly plots and easy laughs, which do come occasionally. Those shows weren’t great or even all that good, but it can be argued we didn’t know better at the time. We should know better now, but the ratings for “Melissa & Joey” prove otherwise. When the series debuted last August, it drew record ratings for the network with 1.26 million viewers in Adults 18-49 and 2.15 million total viewers. Overall, it ranked among cable’s Top 5 scripted cable series in Adults 18-34, Women 18-34, Viewers 12-34 and Females 12-34, according to Nielsen Media Research. Yes, it is adults who are keeping it alive, those of us looking for a somehow comforting format and faces to help us feel young again.

At least “Melissa & Joey” is a new, even if familiar, creation. Sure, I’ll tune in to some of the ’90s Nickelodeon shows that TeenNick is reairing this fall. But how much nostalgia is too much? When do we get to the point where we are, as my brother eloquently put it on Twitter this week, “eating ourselves alive, starting with memories”? His several-tweet tirade was ignited by The A.V. Club’s baffling “classic” TV recaps, a rehashing of shows such as “Alias,” “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Angel,” “NewsRadio,” older episodes of “The Simpsons,” “Homicide: Life on the Street” and “Batman: The Animated Series.” More recent fare also is dissected, from “Arrested Development” to “The West Wing” to “Veronica Mars,” but it’s no surprise the majority of pieces are dedicated to the shows upon which Millennials were weened. And now, here come recaps of “The Real World,” Season One. Things are getting out of hand.

I’m guilty of watching “Melissa & Joey” — and perhaps mimicking its theme song along with my roommate, complete with choreography, although you can’t prove it — out of boredom and curiosity, but I can’t deny I’m also entertained by the sitcom. It shows that a new take on old formats can work, which was part of Hart and Lawrence’s plan all along. It can be my guilty pleasure. I also realize I need to be careful; I can’t let this ABC Family series be a gateway drug to rehashing the intricacies of shows such as “Hey Dude” and “Salute Your Shorts,” episode for episode. Looking back on remnants of our childhood, or even eras we wished we had lived in, is fine. VHI reviving “Pop Up Video” is frankly awesome. But we can’t actually go back, as tempting as it is. We have to grow up.

So we beat on, one blog post at a time, hoping the rest of our generation won’t stay in the past.

Sarah Carlson has a front-row seat to the decline of the newspaper industry and lives in Alabama with her overly excitable Pembroke Welsh Corgi.