The John Larroquette Show, lost but the first season will not be forgotten (1993-1996).
Just coming off the series “Night Court” (where he played a sleazy assistant district attorney) which ran from 1984-1992, Larroquette didn’t skip a single season before starting his own show—hence the John Larroquette Show.
The show revolved around John Hemingway, a recovering alcoholic newly appointed to the role of night shift manager of the St. Louis bus depot. The set for this show was far and above any of its competitors. It was dark, gritty, dingy and looked like what one would think of when one thinks of a St. Louis bus station. The show orbited around John’s attempts to stay on the wagon, and season 1 roughly equals one or two episodes per one Step of the 12 Steps used in Bill W’s AA program.
Hemmingway has a sign in his office that says it all: “This Is A Dark Ride.” Hemmingway, played by John Larroquette, is a newly minted recovering alcoholic trying to right himself while managing a bus station in St. Louis. The first year of this show was absolutely brilliant, with a tremendously talented ensemble cast and decidedly sharp and intelligent scripts that almost went out of their way to challenge ethnic and social mores. No other sitcom boasted a hooker as a regular character, for God’s sake! One of the daughters was booted from the Cosby Show because she was in a racy movie that hit the theaters in the sit-com’s off-season.
John is constantly struggling to keep control of the station, with regular conflicts with his secretary, Mahalia, the janitor, Heavy Gene, and most sharply with sandwich bar attendant, Dexter, who had been turned down for the position that John was appointed to and, of course, there is the requisite sexual tension materializing with the prostitute Carly. Oh yeah–and they work the third “grave yard” shift.
Because there was something original airing that started capturing a very loyal following, NBC had to spring into action to screw with something that was working. Legend has it that NBC thought “Cheers”-in-a-bus-station and immediately pressured producers to lighten the mood of the show considerably, removing everything that made the show so extraordinary. Wasting no time, by season 2, NBC had already moved John from the miserable junkyard he was living in, into a high scale apartment that just so happened to be across the hall from a cute nurse played by Allison LaPaca and the mandated relationship ensued. The necessary sit-com formula was applied like an ointment and “cured” LaPaca’s crooked smil. The surrounding characters lost their edginess — the hooker became a respectable bar owner (uh huh), the sharp-tongued, streetwise food counter owner became your basic sidekick, et cetera. I knew it was over when the hooker bought the bar, I just knew it, and maybe watched 2-3 episodes of season 2 before I had to cut the show loose. Who could blame me? After all, the dark and intelligent comedy had morphed into a standard relationship sitcom with stereotypical characters and scripts right out of “Three’s Company” without the lovable campiness. In a situation like that you have to get out as fast as you can to preserve what few good memories you have of the show before those memories become intertwined with the crap.
To change the subject completely, the show had some good guest stars, including David Crosby, who regularly played Cheste, John’s sponsor for AA meetings. Another episodic guest star, Bobcat Goldthwait, played an assistant to John, who was constantly a mess but became suddenly efficient and ‘normal,’ as soon as he got drunk. Richard S. “Kinky” Friedman appeared as himself in a jail cell.
All I have to say is, what is the matter with you networks and TV watching Americans! Aren’t you sick of the tired and recycled scripts and bland characters that flood the airwaves? And you, networks, couldn’t you leave one show alone for the rest of us? Just once? Are you really that scared of TV that is slightly smarter and edgier than all the other programs that populate your prime-time? Networks listen up: You Are Killing Me, You Are God Damn Killing Me With This.
Followers I have included the entire pilot and episode 5 of season 1 so you could get the flavor of the show.