TV Review: NBC’s New Comedies

As usual, NBC was pretty axe-happy last spring.  The once-proud peacock wasn’t taking any chances, so none of the last year’s new comedies (Outsourced, Perfect Couples, and The Paul Reiser Show) were renewed, leaving a clean slate for 2011-2012.  Let’s take a look at their Wednesday and Thursday night offerings, shall we?

Up All Night

Up All Night, starring Christina Applegate and Will Arnett, follows the trials and tribulations of Reagan and Chris Brinkley, a successful married couple dealing with the trials and tribulations of an unexpected new baby.  Maya Rudolph rounds out the core cast as Ava, an Oprah-style talk show host and Reagan’s best friend and boss.  It’s not a particularly inspired premise, but the cast does a pretty good job with what they’re given.  It’s nice to see Will Arnett in a role that’s more than just a variant on Gob Bluth from Arrested Development, and while Rudolph is a bit over-the-top in the pilot, she’s a likeable enough actress to sell an otherwise cloying character.  Wednesday doesn’t seem to be after the same kind of belly laughs as NBC’s Thursday night, so the show’s less slapstick tone is a good fit.  All in all, it’s no standout, but it works as an anchor for the evening.

TWO STARS (OUT OF FOUR)

Free Agents

Free Agents is probably the best of the three new comedies.  A remake of a British comedy, it revolves around Alex (Hank Azaria) and Helen (Kathryn Hahn), two newly-single coworkers at a public relations firm whose one night stand begins to grow into something else.  The show draws comparisons to everything from The Office to Spin City, but it does a nice job of staying a bit smarter than you’d expect.  I’d watch Hank Azaria in anything, and the supporting cast is fun too, especially Natasha Leggero as a bitchy office assistant.  Azaria and Hahn’s chemistry seemed a little hit-or-miss, but for a pilot, it presented a decent amount of possibility.

THREE STARS (OUT OF FOUR)

Whitney

Ah, Whitney.  Whitney, Whitney, Whitney.  NBC’s first foray into traditional four camera, studio audience-style sitcoms in a long time, it follows the misadventures of Whitney Cummings as she deals with her friends, parents and boyfriend.  My brother described the show as being “like a parody of a sitcom from a bit on 30 Rock,” and that’s pretty accurate.  The cast isn’t bad, per se, but the jokes are mostly easy and bland.  I’m a bit of a snob when it comes to style, but there are plenty of examples of four camera done right (Seinfeld, Frasier, Will & Grace, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and How I Met Your Mother, to name just a few), and this really isn’t it.  NBC even seems rusty on how to produce a show like this, from the terrible, pulled-from-a-high-school-play set in the second scene to the weirdly shoddy focuses on a number of shots throughout the pilot.  I will admit that the second act cracked me up a little bit, and I can see a faint glimmer of potential, but given that Community and Parks and Recreation both had really, really strong starts, Whitney as it stands just doesn’t stack up.

ONE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FOUR)

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