FOX just picked up a pilot based on this memoir by Justin Halpern, whom you may remember from Shit My Dad Says. Honestly, that precedent led me to surmise that this book/show would probably not be my thing, and I was correct. (I should say, though, that Bill Lawrence is executive producing with Halpern, and I adore Cougar Town.) I’ll still give the show a try, of course – I try virtually all new scripted shows – but if it’s anything like the book, I can’t imagine that it will be a new favorite.
The framing device of I Suck at Girls is a lunch at which Halpern tells his father that he’s planning to propose, hoping for his father’s approval. His father advises him to sit down and think about all of his interactions with women throughout his life, basically, and then decide whether proposing still seems like the correct thing to do. (I’m not convinced that that’s the most useful thing for Halpern to be examining in that moment, but we’ll go with it.) The book, then, takes the form of loosely connected essays; each chapter tells of a formative experience regarding Halpern and women, in roughly chronological order, from his first elementary school crush through the beginning of his relationship with his current girlfriend.
The concept isn’t bad, but I had issues with the execution. I was completely unable to warm up to the main character right from the beginning, when he explained that if his girlfriend hadn’t broken up with him and therefore prompted him to move home and start the Twitter account that catapulted him to fame, he’d be homeless – because god forbid he get a boring day job like a normal person, I guess? I’m all for flawed characters, but throughout the book, the main character’s decision-making seemed so willfully poor and his attitude toward women (and people in general) so profoundly clueless that I had a really hard time rooting for him. And I know that Halpern’s portrayal of his father is what he’s known for, but that character seemed so ludicrously extreme and vulgar that I couldn’t picture him as a real person, never mind a successful physician.
How well will this book lend itself to the sitcom format? At first, I thought that the loosely connected essays would be perfect for the episodic, semi-serialized form, but there are issues there. First, because it takes place over the character’s whole life thus far, there’d be the issue of the age of the characters, the recent-historical settings, etc. And Justin and his father (and some other peripheral family members) are the only characters who appear in more than one or two of the chapters. So the format will have to change; I’m assuming that the sitcom will be set in the present day with frequent flashbacks, though I don’t know that for sure.
(Note: I’ve referred to the “characters,” though yes, I know this is a memoir – but it’s intended to be humorous and all memoirs are fictionalized to some extent, so when I say I don’t like the Halpern in this book, I want to be clear that I’m not saying that I don’t like the real Halpern as a person, as I don’t know him and wouldn’t want to pass that kind of judgment.)