Review: The Great Indoors 1×1 (US: CBS; UK: ITV2)

Digital and print journalism meet – with bears

In the US: Thursdays, 8.30/7.30c, CBS
In the UK: Acquired by ITV2

For those not in the know, CBS is a channel largely watched by older folk. The home of numerous procedurals and family sitcoms, it does, however, try to attract a younger audience from time to time, often with comedies such as The Big Bang Theory. And The Great Indoors is an interesting example of a comedy pitched at both the young and old – interesting in the sense that you can probably tell whether you’re young or old based on which characters you most empathise with.

Community‘s Joel McHale (45) is a craggy magazine journalist, used to filing his copy from out in the field following close encounters with mountains, bears, Indian yogis and death. He’s summoned back to the office by proprietor Stephen Fry – yes, STEPHEN FRY (59) – where in common with untold numbers of other journalists around the world, he’s told the print version of the magazine is being shut but it’ll continue online. The slight hitch is that he’ll be office-bound and working with Christopher Mintz-Plasse (27), Shaun Brown (29) and Christine Ko (don’t ask) – the millennials that run the digital division of the company and whose idea of an experience is watching a YouTube video of an experience. Compounding the discomfort caused by his complete lack of experiental overlap with these mere foetuses is the fact that he’ll be working for Fry’s daughter, Susannah Fielding (31) (I Want My Wife Back, The C-Word), whom he probably slept with relatively recently, despite there being a slightly icky age gap.

Now, given it’s CBS – the home of cheap laughs at other people’s expenses, as well as of old people – you’d be forgiven for expecting The Great Indoors to be an excuse for the network to marry two disparate but related strands of humour: older, wiser people laughing at callow youth; and rugged manly types laughing at nerds. You’d also be forgiven for thinking that the show would know next to nothing about journalism or magazines, and that it would have the IQ and literacy of an angry letter to a local newspaper.

But, despite the trailer below suggesting just that, surprisingly The Great Indoors is more of a meeting of minds. While most laughs are at millennials’ behaviour, ranging from the speed at which they take offence at things through to their need to selfie their every waking moment, this is a meeting of minds in which McHale learns to be a better person and to understand online while the millennials learn how to put their smartphones down for a moment or two. Fry isn’t the usual stereotypical Englishman and his dialogue is often erudite and subversive. There’s even a suggestion that there has been some actual research done into magazine journalism, with job titles such as ‘digital curator’ and listicles about surviving the Zombie Apocalypse hinting that a day or two may have been spent at Buzzfeed at some point.

Of course, the show is creating a false dichotomy between the digeratti and the digital illiterate: I started working on newspaper web sites back in 1995 and any journalist my – and McHale’s – age will have been well acquainted with online publishing for years, if not decades. I’ve also seen that video featuring the bears in the swimming pool, too, and I have four Twitter accounts, a LinkedIn account and a Facebook account. Millennials working in journalism can still talk to sources and go outdoors; 40-somethings aren’t the same as 60-somethings. But, hey, it’s a multi-camera sitcom – you might as well critique mistakes in the maths in Big Bang Theory.

On the plus side, the pilot episode also features Stephen Fry nursing a bear cub and both McHale and Fry deliver the goods; on the minus side, the live studio audience seems to make Fielding think she’s in a pantomime and the millennials don’t really work as individual characters, rather than personifications of ideas of millennials.

If you like Fry and McHale, The Great Indoors might not wow you, but you certainly won’t come out of it feeling like you’ve been robbed of a great comedic opportunity. If you’re a millennial, you might not see yourself in the show, but what are you doing watching TV rather than Snapchats anyway?