The first six episodes of the Mad About You revival on Spectrum Originals are now available. Helen Hunt and Paul Reiser’s return to the Buchmans feels like a love letter to fans of the original series—for the most part, at least.
Any time a reboot, revival, remake, or re-anything of a beloved television series (or movie) gets announced, the news seems to be met with equal parts excitement and horror. Rightfully so, especially for a show like Mad About You. As viewers, we sometimes form connections with our favorite fictional characters, or maybe whatever entertainment thing (or schmooey, if you’re a member of the Buchman household) we fell in love with is so intertwined with a particular time in our lives that we desperately want to relive, we’ll do anything to have those characters take us back.
At the same time, though, there’s the fear it will somehow be tainted by a return to our screens. Add that to the constant naysayers, who never liked whatever-the-thing-was to begin with, and there’s often a lot of, “why are they bringing that back?”
Enter Mad About You’s 12-episode limited series, which isn’t even being shown on the same network where it spent its original seven seasons; and the thought process with this one was mostly, “oh, my God! It’s back,” with a heavy side dish of “but please don’t mess it up!” With early reviews being less than glowing, to say the least, it seemed as if Mad About You might have been ruined by its return.
But I’m happy to say that, at least as someone who obsessively made sure to record the series on VHS every week and who—I’m not ashamed to say—was not exactly emotionally stable after watching the series finale, the Mad About You of 2019 is exactly what it needed to be: a quick check-in with old loved ones, a chance to see Helen Hunt and Paul Reiser remind us of just how good they are together, and the opportunity to relive some moments that shaped the 90s sitcom through new content.
If you loved Paul and Jamie Buchman’s dysfunctional extended family before, then seeing Hunt and Reiser in their old roles and surrounded by the same Ira (John Pankow), Mark (Richard Kind), and Lisa (Anne Ramsay) as ever might just feel like coming home again. But it’s what Mad About You does with the homecoming that actually makes these new episodes into a helping of comfort food.
Apartment 11D might have been remodeled a bit; but it’s still the place where opening the door might be followed by a “hello, Buchmans!” from Mr. Wicker. The characters might be older or taking on slightly different careers; but Hunt’s Jamie has the same walk and mannerisms, and Reiser’s Paul is just as Paul as ever. The writing of the characters is so consistent, it’s as if we never left them.
And it’s crystal clear that these new Mad About You episodes were written specifically for those of us who were a part of the Buchman family way back when. Abby Quinn somehow manages to play Mabel Buchman as the perfect combination of her parents; at one point, the character even lists her justification for something as “A and two,” just like her dad. The revival’s second episode is, whether intentionally or not, one big collection of throwbacks.
When Jamie goes to get bagels but returns empty-handed because of a side trip to Mabel’s dorm, she uses “they were out” as an excuse for the lack of bagels; and Paul’s baffled follow-up questions are a delightful reminder of the time “they were out” of pizza when Jamie had her showdown with her ex-boyfriend, Alan, for drawing her as the villain in his comic book.
In the same episode, Paul mentions the time he was fifth on a list of “the top 20 young filmmakers to keep an eye on,” which felt familiar enough that it might have appeared in a past episode. Or maybe it was just that Mad About You once featured Paul Buchman working for the likes of Yoko Ono and winning an award for his documentary, Weed.
Back home, the one big hole in the Buchmans’ life was mentioned: Murray. And when choosing a new dog, the Buchmans went with the misfit, with a laundry list of problems, like that his ears regularly had to be cleaned. If that reminds you of the time Paul was worriedly describing Murray to dogwalker candidates, you’re not alone.
Murray came up again in Episode 4, when Jamie mentioned she’d found a “mouse skeleton, [so] Maybe Murray’s imaginary mouse,” was, as Paul finished for her, “not so imaginary.” That’s a double throwback: When Jamie threw out her back and had to drag herself around on the floor in “Get Back,” she exclaimed, “a mouse! There really is a mouse!”
There are more subtle parallels, too. Mark continues to dabble in some pretty bizarre things; and Ira is, once again, in love with an Italian woman that he risks losing by wanting to be more serious than she does. The backstory for one of Paul’s seemingly made-up words, “schmooey,” winds up causing trouble. Unlike with “splinky,” the secret word is about Paul’s childhood escapes (not Ira’s), and because “schmooey” has worked its way into the Buchman vernacular so deeply, its origins upset Jamie pretty badly.
A second (or third, maybe a hundredth) rewatch of the Mad About You revival will probably yield more recalls of the original series; and honestly? What’s the point in a nostalgia-fueled era of reboots if we can’t relive the good ol’ days?
Paul and Jamie Buchman are still them—exactly who viewers remember, yet older. In some ways, objectively, that could be a bad thing. Characters that haven’t grown, that aren’t remotely affected by the major events of the past 20 years, often read as problematic 2019. But the Buchmans have grown. They simply haven’t changed so much as to become unrecognizable, and that’s okay.
What’s not okay is how Mad About You’s only attempt at addressing modern views runs the risk of implying that Paul Buchman (or, worse yet, the real-life Paul Reiser) is five seconds away from writing a whiny op-ed about how feminism and/or the increased demand for better representation in film has gone too far. In the revival’s second episode, the students in Mabel’s class ask why there weren’t any women in Paul’s documentary about the last Viennese baker in New York (who was a man); and he puts his foot in his mouth, over and over, as the class appears to be badgering him.
When Mabel says one thing to support her father—but without actually admitting that he’s her father, per an agreement she’d had him make before ever speaking to the class—he slips up and makes the situation even worse by calling what the other college students assume is a complete stranger “Honey.” Rather than break his deal with his daughter, Paul finally gives up and tells everyone he’s a huge misogynist. It’s the only way to end the “attack” on him.
The whole ordeal makes Mabel Buchman look like a brat, so selfish about not wanting to be embarrassed by her daddy that she’d rather allow a bad situation to become worse for him, and there’s the implication that these very real, important questions are just to beat up on the good guys. Because we know Paul Buchman is a good guy, that he really didn’t intentionally leave women out and doesn’t have any disrespect for them, right? This is Paul, the same Paul who brings Jamie a pillow when she falls asleep in the bathroom—not some monster! So, why are those mean, old undergraduates labeling him?
This doesn’t track with the same Mad About You that now suddenly has far more women directors than ever before and has obviously made efforts to actually include people of color this time around. The only explanation for such a poorly-conceived scene, which was supposed to play for jokes, is it was intended to show the reality of what it’s like for people in a privileged group to suddenly realize they’re not as good as they thought they were, even when they’re not actively seeking to do harm.
The fifth episode isn’t great in terms of messaging either: This time, it’s Mark calling Paul a “sad, warped little man” for not feeling comfortable being naked with him in a steam room after a workout, the trip to the gym itself already being problematic in the way Mark had called Paul fat and insisted he get in shape earlier in the episode. (For those of you confused at home, no you’re not sad or warped if you have boundaries; and no, you don’t have to meet any standard of “in shape” that your old pals force on you…especially when you’re not overweight by any stretch of the imagination.)
So, is the Mad About You revival imperfect? Clearly. Is it worth throwing away all the warm, fuzzy nostalgia and calling the series an epic failure for its imperfections, though? As Paul Buchman would say, not so much. And this is what I’m saying.
Let us know your thoughts on the Mad About You limited series in the comments!