It seemed like the work of a master yenta. A new-guard, relatively iconoclastic cable and nonprofit-theater dramatist (Craig Wright, author of Grace and Recent Tragic Events and a contributor to Six Feet Under) is paired with an old-guard, relatively iconoclastic network and Broadway comedy writer (esteemed yokel Larry Gelbart, who penned the book for A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum and wrote for M*A*S*H). Their objective: to create a late-life stage comedy for a trio of comic aces who would be considered in their golden years if they’d ever stopped working. And the premise was all promise: When a crabby Los Angeles octogenarian suffers a stroke, his ex-wife invites him to move in with her—and her equally crabby second husband.
Who knows how the results got so convoluted? But save some stinging, unanswerable one-liners, the final product features none of the signature qualities of these two flavorful writers. Barely approaching a sitcom’s level of insight and completeness, Better Late sags, even at 90 minutes, under the weight of bland monologues about September romance and hindsight regrets.
Mahoney, as the second husband (with a not-very-convincing occupation of incidental film composer) is a comfort-food distraction; as the most sarcastic character, he proves he can still lay down a joke. And Nussbaum gets a few rare, winning moments as a manipulative sad sack. But you feel the most for Kimbrough, playing a woman torn between two men, in a role written by (gulp) two men. The pro holds her own, but without much help from the material. Three large panels with video projection of sunny Southern California leave you wondering what’s on the tube.