The first sitcom adapted from the writings of Justin Halpern, “$#*! My Dad Says,” was a failure.
“Surviving Jack,” inspired by his autobiographical book “I Suck at Girls” fairs much better, though it is a bit of a derivative work, borrowing heavily from “The Wonder Years,” with its voice-over narration, historical setting and tough, but caring father.
The title Jack is a gruff doctor who is taking on the parenting role when his wife decides to go to law school.
Played by Christopher Meloni — who spent 12 seasons as Det. Elliot Stabler tracking down deviants on “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” — has shown off his comedic chops in the past (See: “Wet Hot American Summer”). With “Jack,” he brings an intensity and indifference to family life as the father of two teens: Rachel (Claudia Lee), his blonde daughter with a boyfriend he disdains, and freshman Frankie (Connor Buckley), who just wants to make his way through high school quietly.
Frankie’s the kind of kid we’ve seen countless times on TV, from Kevin Arnold on “The Wonder Years” to Eric Forman on “That ’70s Show” to Sam Weir on “Freaks and Geeks.”
Beginning with a clip montage culled from the decade of grunge, “Jurassic Park” and Bill Clinton sax solos, with Jesus Jones’ “Right Here Right now” as its theme song, “Surviving Jack” is at its heart a coming-of-age story about teen with a tough father and raging hormones. Again, familiar territory for sitcom life.
But Meloni elevates this by-the-numbers sitcom to something worth your time. He’s an expressive actor and a joy to watch, even when he’s emotionally tormenting his son.
“Surviving Jack” premieres Thursday at 9:30 p.m. on Fox/5.