Dan Fogelman is the creator of This Is Us and so enormously loved right now, but he’s not just capable of schmaltzy sometimes good sometimes weak drama as he was also responsible for the gorgeously lovely Galavant. A musical comedy that ran for two seasons it’s one of the best mainstream comedy series ever made, and one I miss to this day, and so when I heard about this 2006 pilot written by the man and starring Leslie Nielsen, I had high hopes indeed.
It delivers on them too, being a high concept piece of ridiculousness that’s endearing from the get go, as we’re introduced to the lead character Adam Lipshitz (Jack Carpenter) in a very funny way as while at school as despite being a dorky type he suddenly insults his teacher, flirts with the hottest girl in class, and then leaps on to the teacher’s desk where he claims “I am meant for greatness”. Of course it’s a dream sequence as all will have guessed unless this is the first tv show you’ve ever seen, but it doesn’t stop it from being a really amusing one, and the show doesn’t stop being funny once reality kicks in and he’s revealed to be a bumbling idiot who gets bullied by shitty jocks, and when he returns home to find his slightly less than caring mother obsessed by an episode of Jerry Springer it seems like his home life is just as bleak as his school life.
That is until Leslie Nielsen appears in his front room dressed in a tux, supposedly playing himself, with the much loved actor explaining that the reason he’s here is because “My father got drunk, had a one night stand with my mother, and they didn’t use protection”. So yes, making Airplane jokes is something he’s still doing, but he also explains how he’s been sent to guide Adam, that Adam’s meant for something greater, that the fate of the world rests in his hands, and oh by the way, be wary of the man in red. Despite being eighty at this point (and sadly only four years away from death) Nielsen is on top form throughout, and shows just why he was such a respected comic actor over and over again.
Understandably Adam is initially sceptical of what just happened, and at a football game he’s questioning what just happened until he’s suddenly distracted by the man in red, who’s portrayed by Modern Family star Ty Burrell. Burrell plays him with in a slightly goofy manner, occasionally attempting menace, but he’s far straighter and smoother than he is in the hit ABC sitcom and if this had made it to series I’d have been amazed if it hadn’t also made him a star. Ignoring Nielsen’s warnings soon Adam and the man in red are in Applebee’s together, making jokes and flirting with the waitress, or Burrell is, anyhow, and his flirting is of the decidedly creepy manner as he says “I am going to ask you for your phone number and you are going to give it to me. Later this weekend I will call you and you will come over to my place and let me do horrible things to you”, yet Adam somehow isn’t convinced he’s necessarily a bad guy.
Before the Man In Red (or Red, as I’ll lazily call him from now on) can confuse Adam any further Leslie Nielsen appears and verbally spars with him, and Red loses and disappears. However Adam is nonplussed by all of the oddness that’s taken place and he’s still convinced Nielsen’s made a mistake and got the wrong guy and that he surely can’t be the hero of the place. In a nicely surreal way that leads to Nielsen reassuring him via the use of a quick flashback to Adam’s seventh birthday where he wishes he could fly – and manages to – though as his Mum is still watching Jerry Springer she doesn’t notice. Adam presumed it was a dream at the time but Leslie reassures him it wasn’t, before giving him his first mission – “Tonight there’s a party at Mark Sherman’s house, Rebecca Fellini will be there, you must get her alone, obtain her bra, feel her right booby and bring the brassiere to me. The bra holds the key” and somewhat weirdly his flying abilities are never mentioned again, though presumably they’d have referred to it if the show had been given a series.
To throw in an extra twist Nielsen reveals that Red is Adam’s father, or a very close cousin, they don’t have all the details yet, and he reveals that he works for a higher power, like all celebrities, and all with the aim of helping Lipshitz out, and the whole sequence is enormously charming and fun. Later that night the party then takes place which Nielsen also attends, and soon enough Red turns up, they argue and head outside for a fight which contains some superb slapstick and physical comedy, albeit with the obvious use of a body double on Nielsen’s front. Meanwhile Adam manages to get in to a closet with Rebecca but his attempts at seduction initially fail miserably, but he manages to come through in the end though as this is a network comedy the nudity takes place off screen. One final bit of daftness involving a rocket launcher then occurs, before Adam and Nielsen fly off in a helicopter. As you do.
It’s pretty fascinating material, often daft but never less then endearing, and it has the kind of plot which is just plain silly yet strangely lovable. There’s certainly enough going on here to suggest that the show could have run and run for years, and the only reason I presume it wasn’t made was because it would have been quite a high budget affair, at least if they’d carried on having the number of stunts and set pieces that the pilot does. It’s a huge shame as all of the cast are superb, Fogelman’s proven over the years just how great a writer he is (and yes, we’ll quietly ignore the fact that he made Cars and blame the director for it’s naffness), and this is definitely a show which could have been something all a bit special.
You can watch Lipshitz Saves The World on youtube here.