‘The Guest Book’: A High-Concept Comedy Anthology

Ken Tucker
Critic-at-Large, Yahoo Entertainment
Danny Pudi in “The Guest Book.” (Photo: TBS)

I think explaining the concept behind The Guest Book may take longer than reviewing it, but here goes: Greg Garcia, who created the excellent My Name Is Earl, has a habit of writing outlandish stories in the guest books of cabins at campsites he has stayed in over the years. So, psyched by his own quirky impulse, Garcia has built an entire sitcom around his oddball cabin-guest-book tales, and it premieres Thursday on TBS. Regulars include Charlie Robinson as the campsite owner and a group of chuckle-inspiring local inhabitants, such as a stripper who likes to indulge foot fetishists (Carly Jibson), an upstanding neighbor (Garret Dillahunt), and a laconic deliveryman played by Eddie Steeples (Crabman from My Name Is Earl). Each episode stars different familiar faces as new guests. The end of each episode concludes with the new guests arriving — ones who will star in the following week’s episode. Garcia has demonstrated his commitment to this slightly unusual effort by writing all 10 episodes of the first season.

Phew. Okay, we’ve got the premise of the show of the way. Now, is the show funny? Sort of. It’s certainly charming, in a frequently vulgar sort of way, and well performed by the cast and guest stars. In the premiere, Communitys Danny Pudi is married to a woman played by comedian Lauren Lapkus; they’re new parents and their sex life is languishing, so they take a just-the-two-of-them trip to the cabin. She’s a complaining nag, so he visits the strip club — and ends up being blackmailed for his brief pleasure. Not the most promising setup, and it takes all of Pudi and Lapkus’s talents to make the half-hour more than an icky misfire.

Better is the second week’s edition, starring Stockard Channing as the highly religious mother of a man whose fiancée — played by Mary Lynn Rajskub — is an atheist. Channing’s attempts to secretly baptize Rajskub are good, slapstick fun. Other episodes include Jaime Pressly as a former porn star trying to impress the 7-year-old daughter of a guy she’s hoping to marry (John Ortiz), and Jenna Fischer as a medical researcher conducting Alzheimer’s research on a patient played by the great Orson Bean. By coincidence, this is the second rented-room half-hour show to premiere in a week: HBO’s Duplass Brothers anthology Room 104 is a more Twilight Zone version of the genre. The Guest Book is more like The Love Boat in the woods.

The Guest Book airs Thursdays at 10 p.m. on TBS.

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