US TV

Preview: Idiotsitter 1×1 (US: Comedy Central)


In the US: Thursdays, 10.30/9.30c, Comedy Central. Starts January 14

So here’s something you probably already know: women have friends. Some of them even have best friends. They have great laughs together, nourish each other’s soul, yadda yadda. 

However, TV history isn’t exactly replete with female friendships, particularly not ones written by women and especially not as the central relationships of TV shows. You may be able to think of an Ethel and Lucy or two, but until recently, TV hasn’t considered them worth writing about.

Now we have a whole new generation of actresses and comediennes, mostly in the US, creating and starring in TV shows with their female friends. Idiotsitters is just such a show, created by and starring Jillian Bell and Charlotte Newhouse, as two ill-matched soon-to-be best friends.

And just like Doll and EmBest Friends Forever and Playing House, it’s utterly tedious and unfunny to anyone who isn’t the show’s two leads/creators/writers or who has a similar relationship with her own best friend (“Yes, that’s just like us! Isn’t it? Isn’t it?! I must text her about it… Hey she’s watching it TOO!!! Jinx!”).

The story is that Newhouse is a Harvard-educated academic who desperately needs a job, so goes for an interview as a babysitter. There she discovers that she’ll actually be looking after the grown-up daughter of two very rich, very eccentric people, said daughter (Bell) being that strangely insulated kind of offspring of rich people who’s so cut off from the real world, she comes across as being either a complete idiot or having learning disabilities. She might actually even have learning disabilities, so nuanced is Bell’s performance. All Newhouse has to do is keep her out of trouble. 

You can imagine how that goes. Imagine the funny situations. Imagine the laughs as they quote Dirty Dancing and baby-talk to one another. Imagine the belly aching as Bell encourages Newhouse to break her hand for her to explain to the cops why she broke her probation or as Newhouse discovers she was given a date rape drug during a party.

Struggling? Well, maybe you just don’t have that kind of relationship with your best friend. Or perhaps you’ve seen a genuinely funny comedy at some time during your life on this Earth.

There are people who already find this funny. It was, after all, a web series before getting a broadcast commission, so clearly had one or two viewers at least. I can’t imagine they were all Bell and Newhouse’s friends and families either.

But this is not a show with universal appeal, shall we say? It’s clear that Bell and Newhouse are having a whole lot of fun together. Perhaps that’s part of the problem – there’s clearly no genuine tension between the ill-matched couple, no real dislike, no real despair on Newhouse’s part at the situation in which she’s landed up in, no real suggestion of malice by anyone. Instead, it’s like watching two tweens playing dressing up and play-acting. 

And maybe that’s the lesson for us all – never make a TV comedy with someone you’re already friends with, since you’re always going to be enjoying it more than the audience will be.

US TV

Review: Cooper Barrett’s Guide to Surviving Life 1×1 (US: Fox)


In the US: Sundays, 8.30/7.30c, Fox

So I’m going to stick my neck out a bit and admit that despite all my principles and natural inclinations, I think The Hangover is a funny movie. Yes, The Hangover 2 is The Hangover again but set in Asia and a bit more racist, and The Hangover 3 isn’t funny at all and actually wants to be a heist movie. But although it’s a bit misogynistic and racist at times, The Hangover is frequently hilarious, often clever, and justifiably made stars of Bradley Cooper, Zach Galifianakis and Ken Leung.

Unfortunately, it spawned an awful lot of clones and wannabes, aimed at different demographics, whether it was teenage boys, teenage girls, older men, older women or any other exciting group with cash you’d like to name. Fortunately, being an R-rated comedy getting its laughs from R-rated situations, it failed to attract many TV copycats.

Until now. Now, we have Cooper Barrett’s Guide To Surviving Life on Fox. They’ve even got in Justin Bartha – who played “the guy who never got to have any fun” in all three Hangovers – to play “the guy who never gets to have any fun” in this, too. They just haven’t got in any R-rated comedy. Or much comedy.

The basic premise is that Cooper Barrett (Jack Cutmore-Scott), like a lot of young men his age, has just graduated college but doesn’t know what to do with his life. As a result, he is about to embark on a career of dead-end jobs to subsidise his intensive console game and TV viewing existence. Rather than doing what his parents might have done (moving to Manhattan and meeting a lot of people his own age who really like sitting around drinking coffee all day), he moves in with two of his college room-mates (James Earl and Charlie Saxton). To pay for his high-ambitions, low-income existence, he relies on his rich brother (Bartha), who wants to live the care-free 20s he never had vicariously through Barrett and his friends partying. 

Meanwhile, across the hall from them is new neighbour Meaghan Rath (Being Human (US), Banshee), who has similar issues when it comes to growing up, including hiding in the tumble dryer to avoid having to dump her boyfriend, and the group soon forms a platonic ‘bromance’. 

All of this starts in 2011 with a Hangover-style party, the events of which no one can remember. After that, the subsequent events to the present day are then told in flashback, the series’s somewhat nebulous concept being that in a Ferris Bueller/Parker Lewis-style, Barrett gives us the lessons in life that he’s learnt from experiences such as being kidnapped by some UFC fighters, dealing with his stupid room-mates flatscreen TV obsession or kissing Rath.

He’s not learnt very much so far, though, so it’s not so much a Guide To Surviving Life as a guide to things you shouldn’t do that you already knew you shouldn’t do. Maybe that’s the same thing on Fox.

Barrett himself is quite a dull character. He would be the Bradley Cooper character of the piece, but that’s all been transferred to Bartha, leaving no personality except well meaning intentions. Bartha’s more amusing but largely through being older yet being in young situations, rather than because of any good lines he gets. Earl and Saxton have thankless Hangover cast-off roles, too – Earl being the spaced-out Galifiankis character who’s an a-hole and gets everyone into trouble, Saxton being the Ed Helm pushover nerd who no one likes and is put upon by women.

The show’s saving grace – and almost sole departure from the Hangover formula – is Rath, who provides a much-needed female viewpoint and charisma, even if she doesn’t get as much to work with as Zooey Deschanel does in a similar situation in New Girl

Given how offensively bad/offensive other Hangover clones have turned out, Cooper Barrett’s Guide to Surviving Life is by no means awful and even has the odd moment of charm, wit and intelligence. But those moments are rare and there’s too little individuality or originality to the show.

Most importantly of all, Cooper Barrett might want to offer us his guide to surviving life, but I’m not sure anyone would want to follow his advice.

US TV

Preview: Lucifer 1×1 (US: Fox)

Lucifer

In the US: Fox. Set to air 2016
In the UK: Not yet acquired

Some ideas just sound rubbish as soon as you hear them. You take a much-loved adult comic strip, Lucifer, created by one of the world’s most esteemed fantasy writers, Neil Gaiman, in which the Devil decides he’s had enough of Hell and decides to start a new life for himself on Earth.

And then you make a TV series of it that’s also a police procedural. Yes, the Devil solving crimes every week. On Fox, the network where good procedurals go to die.

And then you get that bloke from Miranda to play the Devil.

Just total rubbish, right?

Except Lucifer somehow manages to take all those elements, mix them together and produce something that’s actually very engaging. I assume some soul-selling was involved.

Continue reading “Preview: Lucifer 1×1 (US: Fox)”

US TV

Preview: Crowded 1×1 (US: NBC)

Crowded

In the US: Mid-season replacement set to air 2016

It’s getting to the point where there’s a whole range of family comedies that could air anywhere and you wouldn’t be surprised. Crowded is one such programme – a multi-cam sitcom I could have sworn was set to air on CBS, but is actually going to be on NBC, but honestly could have gone on Fox, TBS or even TV Land without eliciting so much as a blink from me.

It stars former Tick and long-time inmate of Rules of Engagement Patrick Warburton and True Blood’s Carrie Preston as a happily married couple who are at first teary-eyed but are then overjoyed to watch first one then both of their daughters (Mia Serafino and Miranda Cosgrove) grow up then move out the family house to go to college, leaving the couple alone to drink, smoke pot, swear, walk around naked and have sex wherever they want in peace. Largely not on camera, of course.

However, in common with about a quarter of the US population, it’s not long before their children move back in when their relationships or jobs fall apart. And Warburton’s parents (Stacy Keach, Carlease Burke), who were planning to move to Florida, are now going to stay, too. And by the end of the episode, there’s another person moving in, too. Gosh, how Crowded.

The show comes across as Modern Family 10 years on, with Serafino the brain-dead fashion major who only cares about being popular, Cosgrove the epic nerd without any social skills who only cares about science and Keach the old school, emotions are for sissies, Ed O’Neill of the piece. However, it lacks that show’s subtlety, sensitivity and love for its characters, as well as any particularly funny jokes.

What it does have though is both Patrick Warburton, whose comic timing and delivery are masterly, and Stacy Keach who would make O’Neill’s army vet go running into the arms of the Viet Cong if he ever saw him coming. It also has a real sense of ‘been there, done that’ with Warburton and Preston’s relationship: while the show’s idea of married freedom is about as PG-13 as it’s possible to get, right down to the bleeped swearwords, there are moments of real pathos in the pilot episode, such as when the two are crying in each other’s arms as they say goodbye to their daughters on the steps of their colleges.

As sitcoms go, this is as conventional and generic as they come. But at least Warburton and Keach know how to make the audience laugh, even if the writers don’t especially.

If I could show you a trailer, I would, so you’ll have to take my word for it – for now, at least.