‘10 Items or Less’ Misses Checkout Lane With Third Season Premiere

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CHICAGO – The largely improvised “10 Items or Less” returns for a third trip to the grocery store on Tuesday, January 6th, 2009 on TBS with what looks like another hit-and-miss season of occasionally inspired humor surrounded by generally boring characters in an overall mediocre show.

More “Sorta Funny” than the one-time TBS slogan of “Very Funny,” “10 Items or Less” is a reasonable diversion, a series that has more chuckles than some of the lackluster comedies on television this season but never delivers on the potential displayed by its talented star, John Lehr. Like an improvisational troupe with only one real star, every time that Lehr leaves the screen, the show falls apart.

Even without his favorite turkey, Leslie still continues bowling
Even without his favorite turkey, Leslie still continues bowling
Photo credit: Alan Markfield/TBS

“10 Items or Less” is cut from the increasingly common cloth of the improvised comedy like “Reno 911!” or “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” where the cast is given a basic plot set-up that is usually ridiculous enough that they can go off within its structure. When the very-talented Lehr finds something funny to riff on, he alone makes the show worth watching.

The cast of 10 Items or Less.
The cast of 10 Items or Less, premiering January 6th, 2009 on TBS.
Photo credit: TBS

Lehr plays Leslie, the goofy manager of Greens and Grains, a small grocery store trying to deal with the corporate mega-store known as Super Value Mart that is constantly stealing their business. Leslie is one of those kind-hearted but generally moronic bosses so common in television, kind of like a more blue-collar Michael Scott from “The Office”. Of course, the crew at Greens and Grains is filled out by the quirky personalities you only find in sitcom television, including the sweet Ingrid (Kirsten Gronfield), sassy Yolanda (Roberta Valderrama), rough Todd (Chris Payne Gilbert), goofy Carl (Bob Clendenin), stuck-up Richard (Christopher Liam Moore), and, well, kind-of-boring Buck (Greg Davis Jr.).

The first two episodes of season three of “10 Items or Less” are perfect examples of the one strength and many weaknesses of the TBS show. In the premiere, “Turkey Bowling,” Leslie makes the mistake of ordering way more frozen turkey than the store actually needs and the crew has to come up with an interesting way to use the extra poultry. Long store aisles plus frozen turkeys plus grape soda equals turkey bowling. It’s a funny idea and Lehr almost makes it work but like a “Saturday Night Live” bit that goes on a little too long, it barely fills the 22-minute running time of an episode.

The second episode, “Eye Can See Clearly,” which features a blind Leslie after laser-eye surgery goes wrong follows exactly the same formula with the exact same results - a generally funny concept that Lehr does his best to turn into comic gold but ends up pretty mediocre.

The first and second seasons of 10 Items or Less was released by Sony on December 30th, 2008.
The first and second seasons of 10 Items or Less was released by Sony on December 30th, 2008.
Photo credit: Sony Pictures Home Video

The reason “10 Items or Less” is always going to be a bit mediocre is simple - the rest of cast is simply not as good as its lead. Clendenin and Valderrama occasionally hit some funny notes, but imagine if no one on “The Office” was nearly as interesting nor as talented as Steve Carell. It wouldn’t be half as successful without Dwight, Jim, Pam, and the rest of the talented ensemble.

It also sometimes feels like the improvisational format is more of a hindrance to a show like “10 Items or Less” than it is for a show like “Curb Your Enthusiasm”. To be blunt, there are scenes in the season premiere that would have been rewritten with a more scripted format. The increasingly ridiculous behavior and goofy characters make for a show that often feels like it’s trying too hard with a focus on physical humor instead of actual human behavior.

If the blend of workplace humor and improvisational comedy in the third season premiere of “10 Items or Less” works for you, go back and check out the first two seasons of the show, recently released on a two-disc set from Sony. The 13 episodes are presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen with just a stereo track on season one and a 5.1 surround track on season two. The lackluster special features include “10 Items or Less: A Look Behind-the-Scenes,” “Notes From the Casting Couch,” a blooper reel, and internet viral videos.

‘10 Items or Less,’ which airs on TBS, stars John Lehr, Kirsten Gronfield, Roberta Valderrama, Chris Payne Gilbert, Bob Clendenin, Christopher Liam Moore, and Greg Davis Jr. The premiere of season three airs on January 6th, 2009 at 9PM CST.

‘10 Items or Less: The Complete First and Second Seasons’ is released by Sony Pictures Home Video. It was released on December 30th, 2008.

HollywoodChicago.com content director Brian Tallerico

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