In the US: Tuesdays, 9/8c, Fox
If 2017 was the year of military programme, 2018 is already shaping up to be the year of the workplace two-hander. Coming out of the tail end of 2017, we’ve already has CBS All Access’ No Activity, in which various pairs sit around at work doing nothing but chatting to one another, and now we have LA to Vegas, in which employees and passengers of a minor airline sit around and chat to one another. TV’s expensive and I guess a never-ending series of bottle episodes is cheaper than extensive location filming, so expect more of this if it pans out.
I say ‘if’ because dialogue-heavy two-handers require a combination of good writing and good acting to really work. No Activity started fine when it was Patrick Brammell writing it, but a switch in writer meant it soon dropped off my viewing list.
LA to Vegas does not have Patrick Brammell writing for it. It does have Lon Zimmet, who’s apparently written one to three episodes of Worst Week, Scrubs, Better With You, Men at Work, Happy Endings, The Michael J Fox Show, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Superstore and I’m Sorry. It’s impressive consistency to do that – never to write four or even five, just an average of two episodes per usually quickly cancelled show. I wonder how he does it?
LA to Vegas
Most of the action revolves around impulsive air hostess Kim Matula (UnREAL), who’s always dreamed of international travel but who’s stuck on the regular shuttle flight between Los Angeles and Las Vegas, doomed never to escape. She’s stuck on it with posturing pilot Dylan McDermott (Hostages, Big Shots, Dark Blue, American Gothic), who’d rather be talking to the passengers about muay thai than actually flying the plane and camp fellow flight attendant Nathan Lee Graham (Zoolander).
But there’s a regular posse of passengers, too, including eccentric Russian gambler Peter Stormare (Swedish Dicks, American Gods, Prison Break), commuting stripper Olivia Macklin, and English economics professor Ed Weeks (The Mindy Project), with whom Matula strikes up a potential romance. Since there’s nothing like a two-handed, dialogue-rich script to lure in a certain class of actor, scheduled for future flights are the other DM – the one you probably thought I was talking about earlier – Dermot Mulroney (Crisis, Shameless, Pure Genius) and Don Johnson (yes, that one), with Kether Donohue (You’re The Worst) guesting in this pilot episode.
I say ‘action’ but really, it’s just dialogue, with people playing off one another’s foibles. As of yet, there’s little depth to anyone but Weeks, whose ‘depth’ is necessary for the mystery plot of the episode, with Matula being impulsive, Weeks sardonically English, McDermott sozzled, Stormare manipulative, and Macklin stupid and inappropriately sexual.
Does it fly?
Some of this works, some of this doesn’t. The characters are likeable enough and Weeks and Matula do actually have some chemistry, making their romance potentially interesting. The cast are mostly good, with Matula, Weeks and McDermott particularly fine; Stormare does his best, although more as a generic Eastern European than a Russian, while Graham works with what little he’s got but can’t really get anywhere. The rest of the cast are okay, but forgettable.
But it’s the script that has the most issues. When it tries to do slapstick like Airplane!, it doesn’t have the energy or the wackiness; when it’s trying to do smart and witty, it falls short and usually only manages to elicit a chortle.
It’s not a total bust – the show’s well paced, the chortles are at least consistent and there’s plenty of pathos for the flying metal tube of losers. It just feels like two episodes of any given above-average US comedy you care to mention.