10 Items or Less is another example of a brilliantly quirky comedy that is perfect for cable but just wouldn’t work on network TV, not because it isn’t funny, but because it’s a much, much smarter kind of funny.
  • OVERALL
    4.5
    SUPERB
  • Feature
  • Picture
  • Sound
  • Extras
  • Replay Value
THE GOOD
It's totally hilarious and very real with 100% improvised dialogue and scripted stories that draw you right in with their true and authentic nature, not to mention some wonderful acting from a no-name cast.
THE BAD
A few missed jokes here and there and one supporting performance that irks me.
THE FEATURE
Despite my disdain for The Office... even though I've only seen one lametarded episode on a flight back to LA, I have to admit that without a show like The Office, or the British precursor... The Office, a show like 10 Items or Less would probably have never seen the light of day. The Office brought the "workplace comedy" to the forefront of TV and, while 10 Items or Less could be seen as somewhat of a rip-off of the popular NBC (by way of BBC) series, this quirky TBS series has none of the name recognition and just as much - or in my mind - even more comedic flavor than the primetime network show.

As you could likely tell from the title, the series revolves around a grocery store, a fairly low-rent one at that called Grains and Greens, a store that has been in Leslie Pool's (John Lehr) family for five generations. As the show's zippy intro tells us, Leslie's father, Bud, never thought he'd do anything with his life, so he up and moved to New York City to prove him wrong... only to have his father die before he could do anything. Now he's back in Ohio running the store his father left him and now he had to deal with his quirky crew while fending off threats from the big supermarket chain across the street, Super Value Mart, and their executive Amy Anderson (Jenifer Elise Cox), who Leslie went to high school with and had a crush on... but now is the one who wants to buy the store so her big chain store can raze the building and turn it into a parking lot.

The show does retain the kooky occupational feel that The Office brought, only these are people that aren't even qualified to work in an office, so they work in a supermarket. We have Carl (Bob Clendenin), the handyman of sorts who is a reserved sort of guy who has a big affinity for the company picnic, which we find out later in the first episode is because, four years ago at the company picnic, he had sex with Yolanda (the deliciously spunky Ramona Valderrama). Yolanda is the produce girl and a brash, feisty and sort-of promiscuous single mother and, of course, she finally reveals that Carl is the father during a revelation session where Leslie wants to know a little bit about his employees. We also have Todd (Chris Payne Gilbert), the store's butcher who definitely has a way with the ladies with his slick demeanor and classic muscle car, something that Leslie comes to envy as the seasons progress, and Ingrid (Kristen Gronfield), a shy, aloof virgin who really really wants Todd to be her boyfriend. There's also Richard (Christopher Liam Moore), a gay cashier who wants to make it big in the Ice Capades, and his bagger Buck (Greg Davis Jr.), a college kid who doesn't want to bag groceries all his life. This crazy crew has to rally around their new leader Leslie and try to keep their store afloat with wacky promotions like Free Money Day and other events so they don't end up being sold to Super Value Mart and the wicked Amy.

The tagline for the series is "10% Scripted, 90% Improv, 100% Lunacy" and it's rather accurate. The whole series has a very real feel to it and doesn't come off as a hard-scripted comedy at all. All of these characters are incredibly authentic and relatable because they're just regular Joe's working at a grocery store, trying to get by. We hardly ever actually leave the Greens and Grains store at all throughout both seasons - which consist of 13 episodes total (five the first season and eight the second) - with the only exceptions being a club that Leslie goes to with Buck to try to feel young again and a scene where Richard is auditioning for the role of Gollum in an Ice Capades version of Lord of the Rings. Seriously. That's just funny right there, folks. It's a very bare-bones series, with no laugh track, hardly any music and just a down-home feel that really sucks you in to the world of this goofy little store. While, TV-wise, it could be most compared to The Office, I think the closest thing it comes to is really the film Empire Records, but perhaps an older version of it in a grocery store instead of a record store.

The fact that all of the dialogue in the series is 100% improvised (something we learn in the special features) is just amazing to me, because there is some amazingly funny stuff here and the fact that this cast of virtual unknowns can pull off such hilarity just makes this show that much better. There isn't a single weak performance in the whole group, although I wasn't a huge fan of Jenifer Elise Cox as the wicked Amy Anderson. Her performance is just fine, but the way she molded her character as this evil-but-troubled character can be rather dull and almost trite at times. John Lehr, who portrays Greens and Grains leader Leslie Pool and also co-created the show with Nancy Hower and Robert Stark Huckey, is simply brilliant as Pool, with his rosy outlook on life and contrasting somewhat-lower intelligence. None of these characters are really morons, but just remarkably average people that are captured so wonderfully by this terrific cast. I will say, though, there's just something about Ramona Valderrama as Yolanda, who has a very wholesome and real beauty about her that doesn't look like it was churned out of the L.A. system of plastic surgery and Botox and is a perfect fit for this series. Aside from Lehr's turn as Leslie Pool, it's pretty hard for me to pick a favorite performance here because they all bring so much to the show with their characters and Lehr, Hower and Stuckey do a fabulous job of creating balance between this crew of grocers so that everyone gets an equal chance to shine.

While the dialogue is all improvised, creators Lehr, Hower and Stuckey do a smashing job of coming up with storylines for the seasons. It's done in such a clever way since these characters aren't really geniuses by any stretch of the imagination, but the stories are put together with such thoughtful and subtle genius that it plays so wonderfully. There isn't really a sense of high drama here or the constant need to "raise the stakes" but they do churn out stories that create drama in a very authentic way that will keep you tuning in again and again. There aren't any fancy bells and whistles here, just a slice of Midwestern life that is utterly charming and fabulously hilarious.

10 Items or Less is definitely a show I want more of after seeing these two seasons. A third season started airing in January and I can't wait to catch this next season on DVD to see what this crew at Grains and Greens are up to this year. 10 Items or Less is one of the few shows that captures modern Americana in the truest sense and a must-see show for anyone who doesn't have to be told when to laugh, because you will, and you will often with this series.
THE EXTRAS
We get a solid amount of features on this two-disc set and, oddly enough, I'm going to start with the second disc special features because that just seems to fit better. First off we have A Look Behind the Scenes and they talk about this half-improv-half-scripted series. We hear from the series creators Nancy Hower, Robert Stark Huckey and creator/star John Lehr. They start off getting into the genesis of the story and it gets really interesting when they say that the entire cast doesn't see the script except for the three creators, and they explain that the actual dialogue is 100% unscripted but the storylines are carefully constructed, which explains the tagline of "10% Scripted, 90% Improv, 100% Lunacy" incredibly well. It's really quite amazing to hear how this whole show comes together, because it, really, comes together on the fly, for the most part. Sure, there are certain story points that they have to hit, but the ways they get there are completely open, which is super awesome. We get some other great stuff like where they shoot at an actual supermarket in the L.A. area and the gorgeous Roberta Valderrama (seriously, new actress crush, for real) talking about a funny story about an actual shopper that reacted to a scene thinking they were in trouble. It's a great 16-minute featurette that takes you a little deeper into this awesome series.

Notes From the Casting Couch is next and this shows us how they came to the actors came to the parts and it's pretty damn funny. It seems that everything about this series is about as unconventional as possible for normal series, and how a lot of the cast members responded to this bizarre casting treatment. It's only a tad shy of five minutes but it's a great supplement to this awesome series.

Coffee Break - Blooper Reel is next and it's not so much bloopers, like messed up takes as much as it's behind-the-scenes foolery. It's only a minute and a half or so and it's not insanely funny, but a decent little look of life on the set, and such.

Internet Viral Videos are next and we get two of them; Choking and Apology. The Choking one has John Lehr and Kristen Gronfield doing some video interview and John Lehr "pretending" to choke on something and everyone thinks it's a joke and then it's not... or is it... Apology is also with Lehr and Gronfield with them apologizing for the Choking video and then another "tragedy" befalls Lehr which is just as funny. They're both only a few minutes long and worth a look-see.

Season 3 - Back on the Market is the last feature we get here and, while I was hoping for a nice extended sneak peek of the third season, all we get is a 30-second TV spot. I guess it's funny and all, but I was hoping for more.
THE VIDEO
These episodes are presented in the widescreen format in the 1.78:1 aspect ratio.
THE AUDIO
The sound is handled through the Dolby Digital 5.0 Stereo format.
THE PACKAGE
Nothing too fancy here but it captures the quirky nature of the series. The two mini-cases are housed in a small sheath that has the entire cast/employee roster of Greens & Grains with goofy smiles on their faces and a title card above them. The back of the sheath has a critic quote, a brief synopsis, more shots from the cast, a small special features listing and the tech specs, all set in either white, yellow or green. The mini-cases themselves have some goofy shots on the front and a listing for each episode on the back. The cases themselves are clear, and you can see some quotes from different cast members through the cases. Nice work here.
THE FINAL WORD
10 Items or Less is another example of a brilliantly quirky comedy that is perfect for cable but just wouldn't work on network TV, not because it isn't funny, but because it's a much, much smarter kind of funny.

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