p_2069_i_897617 It sounds like a good idea on paper. Write a half-hour sitcom pilot and try it out at Hollywood Fringe, and it’s an idea that might have paid off if Branson The Sitcom had any potential whatsoever of making it onto the small screen.

Fortunately for the forewarned, there are better things to do with $12 (and thirty minutes of your time) than sit through Branson, like head on over to Fringe Central for a drink or two.

Blame writer-director-producer Sam Burkett for this unfunny tale of an angry, bitter divorcée (Chelsea O’Toole as Lisa), who sets off on a Vegas-bound road trip with her prepubescent daughters (McKenzie Burke and Jaiden Geller as Michelle and Amber) and an obnoxious best friend (Kristine Sisco as Minette), Lisa and her gal pal belting out one a cappella heavy metal ditty after another after another along the way.

For some reason the girls keep on driving as far as Branson, MO, where car trouble requires a two-day stay in a town whose residents—BJ Lange as mechanic Larry, Norma Jean as waitress Carla, and Alyssa de Boisblanc as their skin condition-plagued daughter Patty—find themselves the brunt of Lisa’s condescension. (The nicest way to describe our leading lady is to call her a bitch.)

Since writer Burkett needs a way to keep Lisa and company around in the unlikely event of a second episode, mechanic and waitress return curtness (that’s a euphemism) with kindness, and small town Missouri has itself four new residents.

Branson is the kind of vanity project that gives L.A. theater a bad name with its pedestrian script, minimal direction, and hardly a hint of “tech,” though the cast does at least try hard with what they’re given. (Jeff Kaye, Robbie Klay, Paul Maselli, and Chris Parrish complete the ensemble.)

The one bright note for this reviewer was winning a Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Bar from stand-up comic Nicky Davis Miller, around to warm up the audience and conduct a trivia contest during Branson’s many scene changes.

I won my prize for knowing that Lou Grant was Mary Tyler Moore’s boss. The Mary Tyler Moore show this is not.

–Steven Stanley
June 11, 2015