April 21, 2009 in Features

Comedy ‘My Boys’ still getting laughs

‘Likable’ female character leads series
Rick Bentley McClatchy

On the air

“My Boys” airs Tuesdays at 10:30 p.m. on TBS (cable channel 55 in Spokane, 44 in Coeur d’Alene).

Two attractive women make their way across the living room of an upscale Chicago apartment. They are headed to a cart loaded with assorted wine and liquor bottles.

The pristine white carpet is so thick, it is as if they are passing through a field of new wheat.

Just as one woman reaches for a wine bottle, a booming voice shakes the walls.

“Cut! Let’s do that again,” says Fred Savage.

Yes, the same Fred Savage of “The Wonder Years” fame. Today, he’s behind the camera as the director of an episode of the TBS cable comedy “My Boys.”

The women in the apartment located on Stage 23 of the Paramount Studio lot are Jordana Spiro and Kelee Stewart. Spiro plays P.J. Franklin, a Chicago sportswriter who spends most of her time hanging out with her quirky band of merry men friends. Stewart plays Stephanie, her lone female confidant.

Spiro and Stewart make the same trek across the apartment a half dozen times before Savage is satisfied. Another short scene is filmed before breaking for lunch.

Stewart takes the opportunity to nurse the case of bronchitis she is battling. She really should have stayed at home, but there are only a few days left of filming for this season, so she presses on.

Spiro curls up on the white couch to talk about the show and how she was almost through with acting when it came along.

At a time when the networks are having trouble developing good comedies, “My Boys” continues to generate laughs with smart scripts. The show combines the relationship humor of “Friends” with the quirky writing of “Seinfeld.”

“I think we just have a very talented set of writers,” Spiro says. “And every script has a very relatable issue and very relatable characters.

“I think we are lucky to be on cable because we don’t have to pull in the same numbers as a show on a network,” she adds. “I think the jokes and commentary on pop culture keep me titillated through each episode.”

The biggest factor, says Spiro, is that the cast genuinely likes each other and enjoys spending time together.

As if by plan, Michael Bunin, who plays Kenny Morittori, stops by the set. He’s not scheduled to work.

“I just had a meeting on the lot later today. So I thought I would just hang out here for a while,” Bunin says.

He adds that the show works because they are playing characters who seem to be just average people.

That’s certainly the case with Spiro. Unlike most network comedy hits with female leads, her character is not caustic (like Roseanne), bitter (like Cybill), painfully frustrated (like the new Christine) or controlling (like Murphy Brown).

P.J. is just extremely likable. She comes across as the kind of girl who, when she was in high school, was both homecoming queen and star shortstop on the softball team.

Spiro was actually more of a performer while growing up in New York. She recalls how she would sit as a child in the window and sing “Annie.”

So it was just natural for her to have landed her first television acting job before she turned 20. It was a one-shot role on “Maybe This Time.”

Since then she has appeared on TV shows from “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” to “The Huntress.”

Spiro says she has always resisted the idea that to be a Hollywood actress she had to be this “perfectly polished person who has never eaten a hamburger since 1983.” She was so turned off by the high physical demands put on actresses that she didn’t know if she wanted to pursue acting as a career.

“My Boys” was the savior. The fact she could embrace being “just a normal person” kept her going.

When the offer came to do the role, Spiro had registered to go to college. She was going to give up acting and pursue a career in the field of psychology and child care.

But if you think about it, the way she deals with the guys in her TV life, she gets to use her psychology and child-care skills after all.

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