Back to You is an idea devised in TV programmer’s Heaven: get the star of Frasier and the co-star and only likeable character in Everybody Loves Raymond, mix them together any old way, and voila, a sitcom hit is born.
We’ll have to wait and see whether audiences like Back to You, starring Kelsey Grammer and Patricia Heaton as two bickering news anchors in Pittsburgh and created by the same people who made Frasier. As is inevitable with sitcoms today, the premiere episode of Back to You included numerous weary double entendres, but they passed by without doing too much damage because there were some good things going on.
Grammer and Heaton really must be talented performers, as they manage to make their cliched, cartoonish characters appear almost human. Grammer plays a preening, egotistical anchorman, and Heaton plays his spunky but vulnerable co-anchor (or is she vulnerable but spunky?).
But there are some real issues bubbling up under all the nonsense. The show takes some nice satirical jabs at television in general and the news media in particular. An especially amusing and telling moment occurs when field reporter and would-be anchor Gary Crezyzewski (Ty Burrell) does a live report in what appears to be a hurricane outside an empty courthouse where nothing is happening but some big trial took place several hours before. The TV news penchant for visuals over real news values is appropriately and amusingly skewered.
But the personal side of the show is the most interesting part of it. Grammer’s character, Chuck Darling, left the mid-sized TV market of Pittsburgh a decade ago for greener pastures, eventually ending up in the big time as an anchor in Los Angeles and on the track for a network position. However, a childish tirade unintentionally caught on air (a la the 1957 Elia Kazan film A Face in the Crowd) and then seen by millions via YouTube gets him fired, and he ends up back in Pittsburgh with his previous co-anchor and one-night lover, Kelly Carr (Heaton)—that night having been the eve of his departure for Los Angeles.
It turns out that Kelly has had a daughter, whose father she refuses to identify, and has struggled for nearly a decade as a single mother. As the episode begins, Darling appears to have learned little from his on-air disaster in Los Angeles and subsequent fall from grace, acting as arrogantly and narcissistically as ever.
It’s clear, however, that he desperately wants the approval of his coworkers, and of Kelly most of all. This is a good if not brilliant observation of human character and obviously will be a driver for the plots of future episodes, but the producers wisely introduced a nice twist in this initial installment. Chuck is impressed by Kelly’s devotion to her daughter and the strength it takes for her to raise the girl alone, and when he meets Gracie Carr, he finds himself strangely caring for her.
Or not so strangely at all, it turns out. I’ll leave it to you to find out why, and conclude by saying that Back to You deals with issues of personal responsibility and our capacity for moral growth in a surprisingly intelligent way. Not bad for a gimmicky sitcom. Not bad at all.