The frathouse sitcom Glory Daze is a stale keg.

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Nov. 16 2010 11:36 AM

The Return of 1986

The frathouse sitcom Glory Daze is a stale keg.

Still from Glory Daze. Click image to expand.
Drew Seeley, Matt Bush, Hartley Sawyer, and Kelly Blatz in Glory Daze

Glory Daze (TBS, Tuesdays at 10 p.m. ET) is a frathouse-of-mirth comedy and so generic in its particulars that it is barely even necessary to describe its characters and their situation. But nor can I responsibly say that I'll leave its details to your imagination. If we went in that direction, then you might come up with something imaginative and miss the mark. Turning to a more appropriate sphere of cognition, I will observe that the details of the series are all there in your long-term memory.

Watching Glory Daze is a bit like overhearing a rather confused, if somewhat colorful, synopsis of Animal House while listening to a Duran Duran mix. The series is set in 1986. There are a few skinny ties and neon leg warmers. There is the occasional weak jest at the expense of olden days, at their innocent ignorance, as when the love interest rolls her eyes on the way to the technology lab: "We're supposed to… discover the future of letter writing, something called electronic mail." There is the dropping of such names as Ronald Reagan and Bob Dole. That's about the extent of the period detail. Though grateful not to have been hit over the head with a Rubik's Cube, I am slightly mystified as to why the series' creators bothered. Is the temporal distance meant to aid in the suspension of disbelief? Or are they nodding to the antiquity of the jokes?

Here we have the preppy stiff wearing his sweater tied around his glenohumeral joints, the 10th-year senior wearing a Bong-Rip Van Winkle beard, the industrial-grade beer chug technology, the rush-week rager spilling into the bushes, the dorm-room self-pollution interruptus. … "Have you forgotten that this house is under serious scrutiny from the national chapter?" No, I have not.

Frosh; frats. Maturity; community; the search for self. Pre-med student Joel (played by actor Kelly Blatz, whose Parker Stevenson looks comport with the vintage setting) is the protagonist—clumsy with the ladies, loyal to his bros, puppyish in his smile. His cohort includes the conservative prep, whose room is decorated, per his prim girlfriend, in "a perfect mix of Ralph Lauren and William F. Buckley"; a star athlete who is too cool to be a real jock; and a horny little pipsqueak puffing himself as a precocious stud. The last of these is amusing in his crotch-thrusting lewdness, his antics indicating that Glory Daze has a capacity for lowbrow humor that too often goes unsunk to. These four kids rush Omega Sig, an organization sharing all the obvious characteristics with Delta Tau Chi and The Pit. Their pal Chang, an Asian guy, succumbs to family pressure to rush the Asian frat. Approaching its house steeled for tedius and a night of differential calculus, he of course gains entrance to a secret hottie-strewn lair. "You can never tell your white friends about this, OK?" The hotties dance to Shannon, assuming that TBS can afford the rights to put the temp track on the air.

Hangovers and pranks, clammy roommates and pretty girls, a branding iron to a bare ass and a Taser to the scrotum. … It is a small consolation that the boys are likable, a notable assuagement that their elders are weird. The best moments in the Glory Daze pilot belong to the grown-ups appearing in cameos and supporting parts. Cheri Oteri is in a rigid tizzy as Joel's mother. David Koechner brings meaty insensitivity to the part of a baseball coach who learned all his life lessons as a 12-year-old visiting whorehouses. Tim Meadows plays a history professor nuttier than a shirtless Bible salesman. "This is not a dream," he says to Joel from his lectern, rounding up a moment of mocking the boy. "This is real. I'm laughing at you." Well, that's somebody.

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Troy Patterson is Slate's writer at large and writes the Gentleman Scholar column.