My Boys got a lot of attention from the Chicago media when it debuted back in 2006 because it was set in Chicago. Since I had just gotten off the train a few months earlier, I wondered just what the big deal was, since My Boys was far from the only show set in the Windy City. There have been quite a few shows which took place in Chicago, and the list includes heavy hitters like ER, Chicago Hope, both versions of Biker Mice From Mars, Married... With Children, The Untouchables, Family Matters, Perfect Strangers, and Kenan and Kel. At first, I thought this was stemming from a kind of either massive egotism or a collective lack of self-esteem. When I finally got around to watching My Boys earlier this year, though, I started thinking that all the attention the Chicago media lavished on My Boys was fairly warranted.
My Boys is extremely Chicago-centric. More than any other show I've ever seen that was set there, My Boys references real places in the city which are known to the insiders who live there instead of just occasional passing references to the sports teams, setup shots, or references to popular tourist traps which serve mainly to remind the mainstream audience that hey, we're in Chicago! References are made to particular streets, suburbs, bars, and even locations in Northwest Indiana, which is part of the greater Chicagoland area. People who live in Chicago can easily sit down and watch My Boys and feel like they know a group of people just like the main characters that hangs out at their favorite local bar.
My Boys is about the life of a tomboy and her friends. PJ Franklin (Jordana Spiro) is a single gal who is the Chicago Sun-Times's primary beat writer for the Chicago Cubs. She hangs out with a cadre of guy friends, including her brother Andy (Jim Gaffigan), hard rock radio DJ Bendan, AKA Brando (Reid Scott), ladies' man Mike (Jamie Kaler), sports memorabilia shop owner Kenny (Michael Bunin), and rival sportswriter Bobby (Kyle Howard). She gets the woman's perspective from her best friend Stephanie (Kellee Stewart), author of a bestselling relationship book. Being a tomboy, PJ takes after the guys in a lot of her interests and mannerisms, and she would never ditch any of her guy friends for anyone or anything. Her friends and hobbies tend to throw off a lot of her potential boyfriends, and so Stephanie is always there to give her a helping hand in advising her on how to look and act more feminine.
Yes, My Boys is one of those shows in which work life is glamorized. We know all the main characters have jobs, but we never get to see any of them at work. Their respective employers must be the coolest, loosest employers on the planet because all of them seem to get time off to hit the fancy restaurants for lunch and the hip drink places for between-meals beers any damn time they please. After hours, they all go hang out at Crowley's - their favorite bar - or go to PJ's apartment to play poker and drink beer. PJ and Bobby never seem to follow the Cubs on their road trips, although in one episode they do visit the team's spring training facility in Arizona. Of course, even in that episode they get to bring the entire crew along, all on the Sun-Times's dollar, of course.
Naturally, the crux of My Boys isn't the work lives of the characters. It's their personal lives, how they interact with each other and the rest of the world day in and day out. It's one of those inner-circle/outer-circle formulas, like in Seinfeld, where the characters live in their own little bubble and have their own little in-jokes with the rest of the other characters. This is even noted by Stephanie, who, although she hangs out with everyone else regularly, tends to feel a little bit lost when certain subjects come up around everyone else in the group. She does a good job of adapting to this, and in the fourth season, when Andy leaves the show to take a job in China, she even becomes the fifth member of their poker group. But everyone else in the group tends to chat a lot about the fortunes of the Cubs, play fantasy baseball, and engage in several behaviors which Stephanie finds anywhere between confusing and abhorrent.
My Boys is one of those shows where you have to stick it out through the initial bumps, uncertainty, and bland episodes and writing in the first few shows in order to get to a later payoff. The first five to seven episodes are pretty drab; they're there mainly to set up the world inhabited by the characters. (The first 18 are actually named after baseball terms.) In the first episode, PJ meets Bobby, who at the time is a new beat reporter with the Tribune. Their instant attraction to each other becomes one of the show's constants, as they watch each other with a bit of longing as they go through relationship motions with other people before finally hooking up in the third season. (At the end of the series, they're still a couple.) Among the themes of those first few episodes are PJ dating a man named Hank who is pretty high class and can't understand the appeal of anything PJ or her friends do; Brendan beginning relationships seemingly at will with psychotic women, a habit of his; and Andy being on a short leash with his wife, Meredith.
The first season is the only one which goes the whole length of a regular TV season. There are 22 episodes in it, which is close to half of My Boys's 49-episode run. The other three seasons have nine episodes each. The first season is also the most flawed, with the show trying to gets its legs under it and find some kind of angle. It introduces a handful of story arcs which don't get solved. In one, Kenny tries to get his friend Trouty into the main characters' circle, but the otherwise good-hearted, good-natured Trouty comes on a bit strong. In another, Stephanie learns she's $22,000 in debt and starts taking advice from a financial consultant. In another, PJ begins dating Matt Dougan, a new pitcher for the Cubs whom she met while on the beat in the Wrigley Field locker room. Some of these threads are written off with a wave of the hand in the season finale, which is about PJ and Stephanie taking a trip to Italy together. Others are forgotten completely.
For the next three seasons, My Boys finds a real stride. Although not every story twist is entirely plausible, the writing is a lot better, the characters have come into themselves, and the show gets better about not leaving such open ends. Some of the twists can be a little confusing - where does Bobby get off thinking marrying Elsa, a hot Swedish nanny hired by Andy and Meredith, after knowing her for maybe a month is a good idea? That's among the most out-of-character things I've ever seen any character from any TV show do, even if Bobby was doing it because Elsa was in danger of deportation. Stephanie doesn't have any business being a relationship guru. Stephanie, while likable, is actually a very frustrating character because we don't know what her background is, and her sudden authorship of a relationship book makes me wonder just what qualifies as a relationship guru in the My Boys universe and what credentials Stephanie has besides her book to play that role. The character herself is on the material side and has man-eater qualities, which makes me suspect My Boys creator Betsy Thomas is a tomboy herself.
Despite the bad twists, the characters in My Boys gradually show more maturity in the later episodes. Brendan goes from a laid-off rock DJ to the owner of a nightclub and, eventually, a bar. In one hilarious episode, he tries to get a realistic view on his personal flaws when he lets PJ make all his decisions for him. PJ herself gets a promotion to columnist and is eventually offered the head writer job. Kenny makes lemonade of his store's closing by starting a home decorating business while Mike, who worked there, takes a job with the Chicago Bulls.
The characters' maturity, however, doesn't make the show more realistic. The whole of My Boys - whether it's a believable plot in the show's canon or not - isn't meant to be very realistic. The Bobby/Elsa subplot was weird because it showed a side of Bobby which wasn't believable. However, the show does present a handful of things that happen which do an awful lot to remind us that My Boys is about as fictional as a show can get without crossing the line into fantasy. I already mentioned the amount of free time all these characters have. The following things also happen over the show's run: Trouty is named one of the sexiest bachelors in Chicago, even though he has no visible status other than "that guy" which would warrant his being spotted by a high-profile rag; the rest of the characters not being able to function while PJ is in Italy; Stephanie following a couple of the men around to get an idea of what men do when their girlfriends aren't around; the gang getting invited to and banned from a popular nightclub based on something very arbitrary. I would have included very warm weather sweeping in Chicago during the winter, but seeing as how I had that very experience during my most recent visit, I'll hold off.
Like in How I Met Your Mother, one of the endearing aspects of the characters is how much they care about each other. As these characters develop and go through their bad times, the others are always there to lend real advice or a helping hand. PJ opens her apartment more than once, the others help Mike turn his apartment into a place women would actually want to visit, and they help Bobby when he loses all his family's money after his father invests in a ponzi scheme.
My Boys, I think, was meant to come off as a show for women, but given PJ's tomboy exterior and a bad portrayal of the one female, non-tomboy character, I think just about anyone can get into it. It might actually have its appeal in a large audience of men pining to find women exactly like PJ.
What did you think of this review?
Fun to Read
About the reviewer
Nicholas Croston (BaronSamedi3)
Hi! I'm here in part to plug my writing and let everyone know that I'm trying to take my work commercial. Now, what about me? Well, obviously I like to write. I'm … more
Consider the Source
Use Trust Points to see how much you can rely on this review.
Produced for cable's TBS superstation, the half-hour sitcom My Boys starred Jordana Spiro as Miss P.J. Franklin, a wisecracking, fun-loving sports columnist for the Chicago Sun Times. Though by her very nature as a female "jock" P.J. had plenty of male companionship, she really yearned for a lasting romance. Episodes focused on P.J.'s dealings with her ex-boyfriend Mike Callahan (Jamie Kaler), who worked for the Chicago Cubs organization and who had serious commitment issues (mainly, he couldn't make any!); her public-defender brother Andy (Jim Gaffigan),who frequently hung out at P.J.'s apartment to escape his strict, possessive spouse; her friend Kenny Moritorri (Michael Bunin), an anal-retentive trivia freak who ran a sports-memorabilia store and whose social life was next to nil; hard-rock radio DJ Brendan Dorff (Reid Scott), who invariably crashed at P.J.'s pad whenever he'd had a fight with his girlfriend; her best female friend Stephanie (Kellee Stewart), likewise a journalist and the series' obligatory "sounding board" for the heroine's problems; and her chief rival, Chicago Tribune sportswriter Bobby Newman (Kyle Howard). The action was divided between P.J.'s digs and everybody's favorite hangout, Crowley's Bar. Debuting November 28, 2006, My Boys was initially shown in tandem with TBS's reruns of the similarly-themed sitcom Sex and the City. ~ Hal Erickson, All Movie Guide Close