We TV fans know all too well the typical structure of a sitcom: a conflict is introduced; the conflict is heightened, usually by misunderstanding or misdeed; the conflict is resolved, sending us off into the night with the warm fuzzies inside. The best sitcoms tend to subvert that formula in subtle or overt ways, or embrace them in such a fashion that you don’t mind that you’re being fed the same issues that have been part of the viewing diet for nigh on 60 years.
Sirens falls squarely into that latter category of shows. The writers and producers know the drill as well as anyone, but still manage to make medicine go down with a spoonful of coffee liqueur. When the death of an old man in the back of the rig sends Johnny on a small journey that reconnects him with his absentee dad, you know where this is going to end up. He’s not going to run for the hills and end up on a speedboat a la Louie. Johnny and his pop are going to, at least for one scene, reconcile.
It’s what happens along the way that makes the denouement feel worth waiting for. When Johnny stops by his mother’s house looking for his dad’s contact information, he is confronted with a frank discussion of his mom’s sexual needs and how “luscious” she looks in yoga pants. (That’s according to Theresa, mind you.) And meeting up with his father for the first time, he’s visibly put off by how easygoing the old man is about the whole situation. When Johnny tries to lay on a guilt trip that the last words of the dying man were, “Tell my son ‘I’m sorry,’” his father waits a beat before proclaiming, “My left nut. He didn’t say that.”
What helps matters through Johnny’s little search for reconciliation is the choice of actors to play his parents. Sitcom vet Jean Smart (if you’re as old as I am, you’ll remember her as Charlene on Designing Women; if not, she was Martha Logan on 24 adds the right note of sass and strength to her few scenes, and Lenny Clarke, a regular of Denis Leary’s TV work, is pitch-perfect as the bemused paterfamilias.
The b-story, which follows Brian’s fumbling attempts to deliver the actual last words of the man who died in their ambulance, added a decent bit of spice to the proceedings, but could easily have been taken away without anyone noticing. It was the meat of the episode that mattered, and it was plenty filling.
Robert Ham is a Portland-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.