You've seen press in the last few weeks about new original programming from Apple and Disney, but do you know about Spectrum originals? They're the ones rebooting Mad About You. Six new episodes are now available to you — maybe.
Mad About You, starring Paul Reiser and Helen Hunt, ran as part of NBC's blockbuster comedy lineup from 1992 to 1999. They played Paul and Jamie Buchman, young newlyweds living in Manhattan, with episodes focused on such small concerns as buying a sofa and having friends over. (This was the Seinfeld era and, like that show, this one was often about nothing in particular, in a pleasant and diverting way.) In a rather weird series finale, the show jumped ahead in time to reveal that after the timeline of the main series, Paul and Jamie had suffered significant marital problems and even been separated before being reunited in their old — or older — age.
You'd think that would make a reboot in which Paul and Jamie are living together quite happily during these same years untenable, but you would be underestimating the memory-wipe capabilities that also helped Will & Grace ignore everything it claimed had happened in its original time-jumped series finale. That show at least bothered with a passing joke to wink at what it was erasing from its own history; this one just pretends it never happened.
So we find Paul and Jamie still very much together just as their daughter, Mabel (Abby Quinn), leaves the nest to go ... down the street, basically, because she's going to NYU. The Buchmans are still friends with Paul's cousin Ira (John Pankow) and their old pal Mark (Richard Kind), they still live in the same apartment, and they're still having a lot of the same kinds of mostly meaningless conversations they did back in the early '90s. One episode is about why Paul took a toothpick from a restaurant on the way out and didn't get one for Jamie. Another is about why Paul won't take a naked steam bath with Mark at the gym. It's very comforting; they're very like themselves.
Spectrum released the first six episodes on November 20, with six more to come on December 18. Of the first six, the first two or three are a little bumpy, with the Mabel stuff seeming particularly labored (would the Buchmans we knew really be this overbearing?). But once they settle in, the rhythms of the writing and the chemistry between Hunt and Reiser do a lot to keep the whole thing running.
Is it worth watching? If you liked the original, I think so. But of course, if you don't have Spectrum, it's irrelevant, because you can't watch it.
Spectrum is the on-demand channel you get from the cable company Spectrum, the service areas of which include some of the L.A. area, some of the New York City metro, and parts of many other states. It's a big company, for sure, with coverage in a lot of heavily populated areas. It's made up of what used to be the cable companies Charter, Time Warner, and Bright House. But there are still a lot of places it doesn't reach. (Including my house.)
This is not Spectrum's first original, or its first big play: Earlier this year, they had L.A.'s Finest, starring Gabrielle Union and Jessica Alba as cops in a spin-off of the film Bad Boys II. They carry a couple of series made internationally — Todo Por El Juego, a scripted show about soccer, and Curfew, an action series originally made for Sky in the UK. They're not the first TV provider to make shows, either. You might remember that Friday Night Lights got its last three seasons through a deal with DirecTV.
But it's an interesting model. We tend to assume that the thing that makes some streaming shows niche-y is financial — how many services, we wonder, can people really subscribe to? Or it's about devices, given that lots of people still don't have good tech set-ups for streaming shows. But it's bracing to try to figure out how to talk about a show that a lot of the country cannot get legally at any price. Spectrum has given no indication that there is any future for their stuff outside Spectrum on-demand availability.
I don't think I've ever reviewed a show that I — except for screeners provided to the press — cannot watch legally. Could not if I tried.
In some ways, it makes sense for Mad About You to be available in New York and L.A. but not everywhere. It's a very white-New-York show that came of age in a time when white-New-York sitcoms were everywhere. That's not only true because of the location itself, but because like Seinfeld, Mad About You reveled in New York details: the subway, the parades, the newsstands and hot dog carts. Maybe Spectrum suspects that its coverage areas are the only areas that are likely to care about Paul and Jamie 20 years later.
But it's another fracture along another line — another reason why we might, in the future, have even less television in common than we do now. What if the shows you could see in New York and the ones you could see in Omaha were different?
Local television? Who ever heard of such a thing? Other than, of course, everyone, before cable.
An earlier version of this story stated that Jamie and Paul had been apart for many years in the original series finale; in fact, they had problems for years but were much more briefly separated. Also, we previously included a link to a Spectrum service area map that was incorrect.