A television pilot is a tricky animal. Take most any show and watch its pilot, then a mid-run episode. Chances are the two will be wildly different. As a show grows into itself, it finds its rhythm, hones its strengths and buries its weaknesses to a degree, eventually morphing into the show we come to know and love. Sometimes it takes a few episodes, sometimes an entire season (we’re looking at you Parks and Recreation – don’t get us wrong, we love you P & R, but you took a while to get to where you were going. Thank goodness we are patient folk.). The point is that rarely does a show know itself in a pilot. Pilots are usually either wildly imaginative and painstakingly crafted to within an inch of their “please love me” lives – a situation that usually sets the bar impossibly high for the week-to-week trenchwork ahead for the showrunners – or they are incredibly ho-hum – full of derivative situations, stock characters and way-to-high-for-their-own-good concepts that leave you wondering just who is making the decisions in the rarified upper floors of 30 Rock. All that to say that it’s nearly impossible to judge a show based on its pilot. But we’re doing it anyway, because we can. So. There.
Last night, NBC – a network that can flop around on the deck gasping for any kind of bonafide hit with the best of them – launched two new comedies which, of course, they hope will be smashes.
Up All Night stars the great and often ill-used Will Arnett (Arrested Development) and Christina Applegate (Jesse, Samantha Who?) as new parents, adjusting to a new life bereft of former regularities like, oh say, having a life. Maya Rudolph, she of Bridesmaides and general SNL brilliance, plays Applegate’s boss and friend, a lovably egomaniacal talk-show host named Ava (yes, Rudolph brings touches of her very funny Oprah impression from SNL to bear on the proceedings).
My general feeling after watching the pilot was one largely of indifference, sprinkled with a little hope. They seem to be shooting for more of a character-based show here rather than a plot-based one. It’s a decision I applaud because, as it is with so many sitcoms left for dead on the road to nowhere, too much focus on plot to the detriment of character is a death wish. Audiences will not care that she’s into him but he doesn’t like her unless that audience likes both him and her to begin with. Arnett’s and Applegates characters certainly engaged me, and Rudolph is always funny but there are a couple things that are worrisome. Arnett and Applegate have an easy, winning chemistry – their relationship feels lived in already. There is an effortlessness to the writing in their scenes at home. The workplace scenes – any scene with Rudolph really – feels incredibly forced – and unnecessarily so. You get the impression that the writers know how funny Rudolph can be so they are knocking themselves out to make her character outlandish enough to match her talent. They need to stop, or these workplace scenes are going to drive people away. They felt very brash and full and boring all at the same time. Rudolph is too good a comedian for that, and her chemistry with Arnett and Applegate has too much potential for me to be turned off to her scenes.
The show has a lot of potential. It feels like a show that will grow into itself at a leisurely pace over the season – given the opportunity, developing as comfortable a fit as your favorite sneaker. B
The same cannot be said for Free Agents. This show, starring Kathryn Hahn and Hank Azaria as PR agents working at the same firm – she with a fiancee who died a year ago and he coming out of a bad marriage – who fall into bed together in the opening scene and will apparently spend the rest of this hopefully short-lived series dealing with the repercussions of said act is full of every cliché in the book – the “should we or shouldn’t we sex,” the “snappy assistant,” the “inappropriate boss,” the “randy co-worker dude,” the “nerdy co-worker dude.” I’d go on, but I got bored just typing that bit.
Yes, every sitcom has stock characters to a certain degree – specific characteristics that are proven to work overtime to differentiate a cast, types like the “hottie,” the “nerd,” etc. But it’s just lazy to leave them there and expect me to be entertained. The Big Bang Theory’s Sheldon is the “neurotic brainiac” of that show but he’s a fascinating, enduringly entertaining character, because he is so much more than just that. Rachel Green was the “hottie” in a cast of “hotties” on Friends but her character was/is beloved because she is so much more than that.
The characters in Free Agents don’t bust out of their factory boxes in the slightest, tired dialogue rolling off their tongues and overused romantic comedy scenarios flying off the page at every turn. My eyes were tired from all the time they spent rolling around in their sockets. Don’t get too attached to this one, folks. D
JT Landry has been in a torrid affair with pop culture ever since his parents first sat him down in front of Mary Poppins as a tyke. A movie buff, a music lover, a voracious reader and an evangelist forCommunity- Go Human Beings! – and other marvels of storytelling, JT can be found on Twitter and Facebook.Read more posts from JT.