Tuesday, September 17, 2013

REVIEW: FOX's New Attempt at a 2-Hour Comedy Block is a Mix of Greatness, Promise, Disappointment and Outright Offensive

FOX's Dads - Episode 1.01 Pilot

FOX's Brooklyn Nine-Nine - Episode 1.01 Pilot

FOX's New Girl - Episode 3.01 All In

FOX's The Mindy Project - Episode 2.01 All My Problems Solved Forever

A year ago FOX made the decision to try a 2-hour comedy block on Tuesday nights. New Girl and Raising Hope had been doing decent business. They had decently pleasant pilots for Ben and Kate and The Mindy Project. Finally, the network was stable enough that they could test things elsewhere on their schedule. Singing competitions were locking down 3 hours each week with big ratings and they had a veteran drama hit in Bones. Then, The X Factor and American Idol both plummeted in the ratings. FOX couldn't launch a successful new series. And New Girl couldn't hold onto its first season numbers despite its increasingly growing critical acclaim. By January, Ben and Kate was canceled, The Goodwin Games was relegated to summer burn-off and The Mindy Project went through multiple cast changes.

And now, FOX is trying it all again this year with a lineup of new comedies Dads and Brooklyn Nine-Nine alongside returning comedies New Girl and The Mindy Project. The network is in desperate need of a new hit series - both comedy and drama. It ordered many new series this past development season to have many opportunities to find something that sticks. If what they start the season with isn't working, they have the ability to drop it and put something else in its place.

Starting off the night is the absolute worst new show this year - Dads. The sitcom stars Seth Green and Giovanni Ribisi as two friends, Eli & Warner, and business partners whose respective dads - played by Peter Riegert and Martin Mull - move in with them. Brenda Song, Tonita Castro and Vanessa Lachey round out the cast as the two's assistant, Eli's maid and Warner's wife respectively. It was created by the minds behind the film Ted - Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild - and boasts Seth MacFarlane as an executive producer.

A lot has been written and said about how blatantly and unknowingly the pilot for Dads is racist and offensive. I was not personally as offended as I prepared myself for but I could see how offense could be taken from multiple sequences in the first episode. This show is simply bad. It's as if no one on the show knew how to write a multi-camera sitcom and instead decided just to use stereotypical qualities as the basis for its characters, their actions and every joke. It is terribly one-note, bland and simply unlikable. The show wants to paint its characters as complex by having them say the most out-there, no holds bar stuff. That's all this show is - saying stuff for the shock value. Shock value can be used effective as seen in the creative's past projects like Family Guy and Ted. But here, the shock lines need to come from a place of honesty and humanity that simply does not exist. Thusly, the show is never funny which only highlights the racist and offensive issues even more.

But perhaps the biggest thing wrong with Dads is the huge waste of the talent involved. I absolutely hate it when good talent is wasted and Dads basically cuts off all credibility all of these actors once had. I've liked Green, Ribisi, Riegert and Mull in other things but I don't see how I can like them anymore after committing to this. However, I feel the most sorry for Brenda Song. She was just shoved around in this entire pilot and being told to wear that skimpy outfit just because it was her job. I can't wait for this show to be canceled so she can go back to helping David Rosen on Scandal.

Then, the FOX comedy block jarringly turns into an evening of freshness and delight. And that all starts with Brooklyn Nine-Nine, a new comedy from the Parks and Recreation duo Mike Schur and Dan Goor. Unlike the half-hour before it, Brooklyn Nine-Nine is something different and unique while also feeling very current. It's centered around Andy Samberg as Detective Jake Peralta and the rest of detectives at the 99th precinct in Brooklyn played by Melissa Fumero, Stephanie Beatriz, Terry Crews, Joe Lo Truglio and Chelsea Peretti. At the start of the pilot, Andre Braugher comes in as the precinct's new captain.

Now, I'm a huge fan of Parks and Recreation. So, it should come as no surprise that Brooklyn Nine-Nine was one of my favorite comedy pilots of the year - a very sparse crowd though. A comedy set in the world of police procedural is hugely originally and interesting. The cast of characters are also fresh and unique. Each one is given humanistic qualities that make me intrigued to learn more and watch them grow. They are also characters that I haven't seen done to death on television before. Samberg and Braugher have great comedic chemistry. It's just fun watching a comedy tackle a police murder investigation. It is serious stuff - a murder does happen after all and guns are touted everywhere - but the light comedic touch gives everything a fun playfulness. That makes me excited for the show and eager to see where it goes this season - as long as it has the time to grow.

At the top of the next hour is FOX's current tent pole comedy franchise - New Girl. This series had a bumpy first season but become quite the comedy gem in its second year as it truly became an ensemble piece. A large portion of its success came from its handling of the Jess and Nick relationship. The two kissed and dealt with all of their pent up romantic feelings and it was great to see the comedy tackle that quickly, amusingly and honestly.

I liked the third season opener but a lot of it was reduced down to arguing and yelling. The season two finale left many questions up in the hour and the premiere didn't real give any concrete answers. The show knows they exist and have a plan to deal with them. But the premiere feels like the show is stretching the resolution out because of the comedic chemistry and opportunities amongst its cast. Just like everyone else, I like Zooey Deschanel and Jake Johnson's characters romantically together as well as the interactions between Max Greenfield and Merritt Wever. But that doesn't necessarily mean I just want to see them doing wacky hijinks or placing the main issues aside. Tackling the real stuff was something that season two did really well. But the premiere just didn't land well. Jess and Nick need to talk about what their relationship means for the dynamics in the loft and the possibility of what would happen if they broke up. But instead they head off to Mexico to avoid these issues at all cost. Yes, it's hilarious to watch them sneak into a fancy hotel and make out in front of the loft door with Schmidt and Winston standing next to them. However, the real talk is still coming.

Elsewhere, Schmidt needed to make a decision between Cece and Elizabeth. Instead the show chose the schlocky sitcom way out - Schmidt's gonna date both woman behind the other's back. Sure, that keeps Merritt Wever around longer. But it also delays Schmidt's choice. Of course, this won't work out well in the end for him. I wanna say that the show is trying this story as a way of highlighting just how lost Schmidt is without Nick being there for him constantly as a best friend. But it comes across as a sitcom plot more than an honest reaction from this character.

And the show still has no clue what to do with Winston. But hey, now he's color blind! That's a characteristic that can go right up there with being bad at pranks and obsessively bad at doing puzzles and finding condoms.

Closing out the night is The Mindy Project. Now, The Mindy Project had my favorite comedy pilot last year but as it developed it became increasingly clear that it didn't really know what it wanted to be as a series. It was in a constant battle between being a rom-com look for love and an ensemble workplace sitcom. It rotated out its secondary cast every few episodes and never knew how to use any of them particular well. Sure, it has had its very funny moments along the way but at the start of its second season it still feels like a show in flux.

The show is still incredibly relevant and current with its humor (They make jokes about vines!). The main romanticism plots surrounding Mindy are pleasant to watch despite the unlikable-ness of its leading players. However, it still struggles with its ensemble nature. Did Jeremy's weight-gain amount to anything in this premiere? Are Morgan and Beverly being asked to do anything but be wacky Morgan and Beverly? Is Zoe Jarman still a part of the show? And what exactly does Xosha Roquemore add to the series? I really like Chris Messina on the show but he increasingly seems like a lesser version of New Girl's Nick Miller.

The Mindy Project seemed poise to truly breakout in its second year - a la New Girl and Parks and Recreation. I had hoped that the summer hiatus would revitalized the writer's room and they would return confident with how to make this a great show. That just didn't happen. FOX has given them a very long leash to figure stuff out. But now, they need a comedy that pulls in the ratings. If The Mindy Project can't do that, the network won't hesitate to cancel it - it's given it much more time than it maybe deserved.

Dads - F

Brooklyn Nine-Nine - B+

New Girl - B

The Mindy Project - C+

Some more thoughts:
  • So, what are everyone's expectations for the ratings tomorrow? Will people tune into Dads just to see how terrible it is? Or will the new anti-critic ad alienate viewers from it altogether? And does airing Dads before Brooklyn Nine-Nine derail the latter's chance of finding success?
  • What the hell is that Dads title sequence?
  • And speaking of title sequences, The Mindy Project still has its terrible one.
  • "Pull over! That piñata is shaped like a monkey!" - New Girl's Nick
  • "It's resort jail. They let me watch Ugly Betty." - New Girl's Nick
  • How in the world does The Mindy Project's Danny not know what a search history is?
  • I skipped large portions of The Mindy Project's first season but has Chloe Sevigny always been so underutilized?
  • Did you see the twist with Andre Braugher's Brooklyn Nine-Nine character coming?