Monday, September 5, 2016

REVIEW: 'Loosely Exactly Nicole' - Nicole Uses a Kid to Help Book a Commercial in 'Babysitting'

MTV's Loosely Exactly Nicole - Episode 1.01 "Babysitting"

Frustrated by the lack of progress in her acting career, Nicole uses the kid she's babysitting to help her get a part. Meanwhile, Devin seeks Veronica's advice to satisfy a new man.

Nicole Byer has been a rising star MTV has been keeping their eyes on for awhile now. FOX's Party Over Here didn't really work out earlier this year. Plus, this series has been undergoing a bit of tinkering since it was first announced. But now, it's arrived as a true showcase for Byer. It's a simple but very effective autobiographic series about her struggles as an actress. Throughout that process, her unique personality shines through and complicates everything. And yet, she is still bubbly and lovable despite the crazy things she does to get attention. It's great. There are certain things that Nicole does in "Babysitting" that could be horrifying. However, they mostly work because there is such a specificity to the material. This feels genuine. It doesn't feel produced in order to create a satisfying TV show. Yes, there are elements of clear comedic writing and structuring to craft an effective story. But there is just a quality of the show that feels real. That helps it overcome some of its minor shortcomings.

The blend of personal and professional stories is going to be so important for this series. Here, the balance is just right. It will need to remain that way moving forward too. The premiere builds with the introduction of Nicole's personality, her desire to be an actress and the reveal of the horrifying lengths she will go to just to book a job. It's very effective in its structuring. The writers obviously know what they doing. But the story itself largely comes from Byer. She's taking the audience on a journey. A peek into the world that she has always known but that audiences have rarely seen. That has been an effective strategy for so many shows over the years. It's refreshing to be dropped into a world that is completely foreign and leave knowing something profound about it. Yes, there a number of shows out there right now about struggling actors or the entertainment business. But Nicole's perspective in that world is special. Thus, it gives the material of this series a distinctive quality. It can handle these familiar ideas and concepts in new ways that are really funny as the episode goes along.

Nicole could be a very alienating character. She's unapologetic about every thing she says. She frequently says something inappropriate at any given moment. She's the kind of person who would have sex with someone just to enjoy their air conditioning. She's very open and frank about that. That's simply who she is. It wouldn't be an enjoyable character though if she wasn't contrasted with a group of friends. This is Nicole's show. But too much of Nicole could be a potentially damaging thing. Sure, the subplot here that focuses on Devin not being able to satisfying a bi-curious guy sexually is a bit weird. It showcases that the entire show will have the same comedic sensibility as Byer even in the moments when she isn't on the screen. It's great that Nicole's friends understand her and her humor. They don't judge her for the things she says and does. They aren't taken aback by the crazy things. In fact, that only proves to them that she is still Nicole. That's an endearing quality in friendship. It's the ideal. One person knows another so well that they aren't surprised or offended by the other's behavior. Devin and Veronica provided that comfort and familiarity for the audience. It will be questionable if they can front stories as well as Nicole can. But it should be interesting to see the show try moving forward.

But again, this is Nicole Byer's show. It will succeed or fail with her. Fortunately, it's a good showcase premiere for her. At times, it's a bit too introductory and expositional. And yet, that's what most series premieres are. It just felt extremely pointed at times - like when it had to be explained how Nicole found out about a casting website. That felt like it only revealed that she really hasn't booked any acting jobs so far. But it was hardly focused on the fun and loose elements that work so well in this premiere. It's fun watching Nicole as she bounces from place to place with so much confidence. It's great seeing her being a sexual being. That energy is so infectious and a joy to watch. Sure, she can come across as forceful, demanding and manipulative. But because it's delivered with a smile, it works. People keep finding themselves drawn to her because of her uniqueness. That's certainly what audiences will feel as well. It's right to do so as well. It will probably become even better in the future as the writers get an even stronger understanding of Byer's strengths as a performer.

Of course, the big moment of "Babysitting" comes when Nicole decides to steal a kid in order to book a commercial. The premiere previously set up the relationship between Nicole and Troy (Fresh Off the Boat's Ian Chen). She regularly watches him and is quite a big influence in his life. She's teaching him to stand up for himself. She's actually proud when he gets back at a bully by forcing him to pick up the ice cream and then push it into his friend's face. It's not the kind of behavior any parent wants for their child. But it's something that Nicole loves. She sees it as her doing her job. She loves being able to run lines with this child no matter how inappropriate they may be. But she then takes things to a whole new level by taking him to audition with him and putting him in blackface. Blackface is a serious issue. It's never okay. And yet, it's being used here to showcase the twisted mind of Nicole and what she is willing to do in order to book a commercial. It's not an endorsement of the behavior. She's just so desperate to become an actress that she pretends Troy is her son and tells a wild story about meeting his father. It doesn't work. The casting directors know exactly what she has done. They are astounded by it. And yet, she still walks out of there with a potential manager. That's a victory. So, it seems like her behavior has been rewarded. Her twisted behavior can actually have good consequences. That feels real and genuine. It should also create a captivating journey for her this season.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Babysitting" was written by Christian Lander & Christine Zander and directed by Chioke Nassor.
  • It's obvious the show is going to have a lot of fun ripping apart the typical character breakdowns in casting notices. It already produces a solid joke when Nicole goes in to read for a "big black prostitute."
  • It's hilarious that Nicole is more willing to share her Netflix password than share the bed with the guy she has just had sex with. To her, he is too disgusting because he's sweats a lot while he sleeps.
  • Nicole walks in on Devin going down on his bi-curious friend. She's not surprised or bothered by it. She just continues talking about her life. More importantly, that's not the thing that makes the guy want Devin to stop.
  • Nicole's influence on Troy is noticed by his mother as well. Nicole always makes sure to craft a perfect lie for Troy to say whenever he has to go home again after a day of wild adventures. But he still says the n word in front of his mother and Nicole. And yet, Nicole just rolls with it and pretends to be outraged to get out of the situation. 
  • How did Nicole and Devin even get shrimp in the first place? That doesn't seem like something they would buy. And yet, it sets up that final reveal that Devin's bi-curious friend is allergic just like the guy Veronica made pass out during college. 
  • I'm guessing Veronica and Devin will remain important parts of the show. They seem to be close friends to Nicole. But I wonder just how much we'll see Troy or Derek again in the future?
  • As noted in my Mary + Jane review, this show marks a key programming shift for MTV. It's more mature and adult than any of their previous scripted endeavors. And yet, the two shows pair well with each other and could create a pretty entertaining hour for MTV. Let's just see if audiences agree with that statement.