Review: Superior Donuts 1×1-1×2 (US: CBS)

Superior Donuts

In the US: Mondays, 9/8c, CBS

CBS’s policy of iterating TV shows – taking existing TV shows then making minor changes to them until it perfects their formulae – isn’t without success. After all, Intelligence may have sucked but CBS’s next iteration of it, Limitless, was actually jolly good.

However, I have to question the thinking behind not only commissioning Superior Donuts but airing it just before its antecedent, 2 Broke Girls. Does America really need not just one but two baking goods-based, multi-camera sitcoms featuring a diverse, blue-collar cast as they try to make money in a tough market? On a Monday night?

Yet here we are with Superior Donuts. How curious.

So has this iteration improved on the previous generation? Not hugely, since it lacks Kat Dennings for one thing. But Superior Donuts is at least funnier and less racist, and has more interesting things to say about millennials, the older generation and business than 2 Broke Girls does.

Here, we have old hand Judd Hirsch (Taxi, Numb3rs, Forever, Dear John (USA)) playing Arthur, the gruff owner of a small Chicago doughnut shop having to deal with the fact his neighbourhood is gentrifying and he doesn’t know how to change with the times. Then along comes millennial Jermaine Fowler looking for work. He understands the way of the Twitter and the Instagram and the Yelp, and he also has a few innovations in mind for doughnuts. Soon, a beautiful cross-generational, cross-racial working partnership is born.

With Superior Donuts, CBS has taken a leaf from CBC Canada’s book in order to get to grips with diversity, copying its Kim’s Convenience move by adapting a play, although not one quite as beloved as Kim’s Convenience was. Indeed, some of the dialogue still reeks of both the original play and the theatre itself, with a reference to Jean-Michel Basquiat in the first episode, no less. 

Dotted around the shop is a diverse group. We have two cops (Married with Children‘s Katey Sagal and Third Watch‘s Darien Sills-Evans), a slightly evil Iraqi refugee-turned-real estate developer and dry cleaner (Maz Jobrani), and unemployed factory worker David Koechner (Anchorman). There’s also a blonde rich girl (again, this is airing just before 2 Broke Girls – do they think no one’s going to notice?), played by Anna “daughter of Mikhail” Baryshnikov, who has to endure the eternal rich liberal pain of not being able to experience proper oppression herself.

There is a tragi-comic quality to all the characters, from Sagal’s slight corruption through Jobrani’s memories of growing up in Iraq (“When I was young, they dropped mustard gas on my village and it burned my oesophagus… Now, if I lick a battery, it will kill me.”) to Koechner’s desperation to do any job, whether that’s toileting dogs or donating blood and semen. Jobrani is constantly trying to get Hirsch to sell him the doughnut shop, and with Hirsch a widower and slow to adapt to changing times, it’s a constant possibility.

The show also plays with race. A lot. It just about gets away with it in a way that 2 Broke Girls really doesn’t, since it plays less on stereotypes and more on societal rules. It also helps that Jobrani is the main instigator and foil for the humour – is it okay for Jobrani to call Fowler “the black guy” if he also calls Hirsch “the Jew” and worries that if he gets angry he’ll “sound a bit terroristy”?

All of which makes Superior Donuts seem a lot better than it is. Remember, this is a show that devotes half of its second episode to a quest for the WiFi password in Jobrani’s shop so that Sills-Evans can watch Doctor Who on his phone – sample dialogue: “Do you want to watch Doctor Who? Season 24 is the best.” “No, but after you’ve watched it, I’ll tell you what a vagina looks like.”

Still, it’s a notable improvement on its predecessor, will probably both appeal and educate the pensioners who watch it, and has more heart than the average CBS sitcom for sure. But a show that thinks season 24 of Doctor Who is the best? I’m out.