Pillbox

Grocery store comedy is “very funny”

By now, you’ve probably all heard TBS’s motto: “very funny.” Well, if they keep churning out original comedies like 10 Items or Less, that moniker will be more than rightly deserved. Taking place in a grocery store that has served customers for over 150 years, the setting offers plenty of opportunities for grocer-related jokes and pratfalls. And if nothing else, the show’s setting is definitely unique and, from what I know, unheard of. John Lehr, who plays store manager Leslie, leads a cast full of relative unknowns in this largely improvised show that has just now entered its third season.

As Leslie, John Lehr is hilarious, and is the heir of Greens & Grains, a small mom-and-pop grocery store in Dayton, Ohio. Leslie was a struggling New York City businessman who moved back to his hometown after inheriting the store following his father’s death. As the lovable yet somewhat absentminded and oblivious owner, Lehr is the catalyst of the show, and every scene with him is one laugh after another. He is supported by a wide array of co-workers, most of whom are forgettable. However, Carl, played by Bob Clendenin, and Todd, played by Chris Payne Gilbert, usually perform at least up to the level of Leslie. Carl, who you may recognize as an extra in one of many other shows, plays a goofy yet lovable stock boy who fathered a Latino co-worker’s child and gets most of the face time apart from Lehr. Todd, the butcher whose dream is to make it as a NASCAR driver, is off the wall as the loose cannon of the cast, prone to abrupt displays of outrage but also shown to have a gentler side.

Each episode usually plays out in similar fashion. Taking a chip off the Seinfeld block, and for newer folks, the It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia block, the show really is about nothing, though the gang is constantly trying not to get run out of business by the Super Value Mart across the street — to varying degrees of success, of course. In fact, veteran TV actress Kim Coles (In Living Color) recently joined the cast as the manager of the Super Value Mart, though she was rather unimpressive in her season three debut episode. Lehr is usually the centerpiece in getting his store involved in some foolhardy scheme, during which things go awry, although the staff of Greens & Grains somehow make it out of every mess better off than they were before it. Occasionally, Leslie’s co-workers start off as the ringleaders in some ridiculous project; those episodes are usually varied in their success rates, but keep on the lookout for a Todd- or Carl-centric episode.

The show itself is well-written, drawing a few similarities to hit Comedy Central show Reno 911!, with veteran writers Robert Hickey, Nancy Hower, and Lehr himself taking the helm since the series premiere. The trio first banded together on the set of the critically acclaimed mockumentary Memron, which poked fun at the Enron scandal. However, as with Reno, the show is completely unscripted, with only the situations set up in advance. Lehr provides the basis for much of the improvisation, with his fellow actors joining in alongside him, and has stated that each 25-minute episode is constructed using about 30 hours of dialogue that was filmed.

This show definitely has a chance to compete during its less-than-stellar timeslot on Tuesdays at 11 p.m. It already has a steady, though not large, following that has pushed the series into its third season, and it has the makings of, at worst, a cult hit. It’s definitely better than what the ratings suggest and deserves more than other still-on-air shows, like Tyler Perry’s House of Payne.

In the end, give this upstart comedy a chance. It’s clever and will assuredly give you a good laugh. Also, 10 Items or Less is a breath of fresh air from the same old recycled garbage that other networks spit out every year. It’s well worth the 20 minutes of your week you’ll spend on it. 10 Items or Less airs on Tuesdays at 11 p.m. on TBS.