A new sitcom from Tina Fey and her writing partner Robert Carlock is always something to get excited about, they gave the world Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and 30 Rock after all, two of the finest sitcoms of this century, and have writing credits on some other much loved series. Throw in a starring role from the always amazing Ted Danson, and you’d think they’d have a sure fire hit on their hands, but I’m not quite sure what to make of this opening episode.
Originally planned as a spin-off series for Alec Baldwin’s 30 Rock character Jack Donaghy, after Baldwin (bizarrely) showed no interest in it Fey and Carlock rewrote it to fit Ted Danson’s character, a fairly decent businessman who has decided to get in to politics. Initially we’re led to believe he came out of retirement to tackle the big issues the city faces, but toward the end we learn it was simply to impress his teenager daughter who thought he was wasting his life away.
It opens with a press conference by the new mayor, Neil Bremner, (Danson) which allows Fey and Carlock to give us a feel for the main characters in the show and to set up the plot line for the opening episode, which is mirrored by Danson’s daughter Orly (Kyla Kenedy) running for school president. We’re also told why the previous major quit (because 2020 broke him, essentially), but a throwaway joke about Dolly Parton buying everyone the vaccine explains why no one has to socially distance or wear masks or anything like that.
The idea of watching the adventures of a rich white male take on a political position may not be appetising to everyone, and it’s a shame in some ways that it does feature Danson in the lead role. Don’t get me wrong, like any sane human being I adore the actor and the superb shows he’s appeared in over the years, but Fey and Carlock could have created a far more interesting work if the character hadn’t been such a sitcom staple of the variety we’ve seen many a time before.
To be fair, they do comment on this, as Bremer’s advisor Mikaela Law (Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s Vella Lovell) has concerns that “I made that old white man seem cogent and cool”, fellow colleague Mike Cabellon (Tommy Tomás) has some decent lines about cancellation culture, while Holly Hunter has a substantial role as Bremer’s opponent who accepts the role of Deputy Mayor by the end of the episode in the hope that Bremer will eventually screw up and she can take on his position. The combative nature of their relationship works here too, but I truly hope that it doesn’t develop in to a will they / won’t they storyline as that’s something which has also been done to death.
Along with Bremer learning how it’s impossible to please all of the people all of the time, his daughter Orly’s plotline sees her initially frustrated with her father, but slowly learning to admire him, and this falls a bit flat. There’s the odd decent line but right now she’s not a character who seems particularly interesting, and if she’s to play a major part in the series I hope they make her more likeable and allow her to be funny too. At least the majority of the supporting cast is strong, and the script contains some astute observations when it comes to politics, even if it isn’t exactly the kind of thing which you’ll find yourselves surprised by. There’s a nice level of daftness every so often too, and Bremer’s communications manager Jayden Kwapis (Bobby Moynihan) gets some choice lines including how he boasts that “I’m actually one of the oldest Jayden’s you’ll ever meet”. The show also has an occasional surreal edge, including a line which claims Murder Hornets are in fact “Tiny North Korean fighter jets”, and I hope we see more of this as Fey and Carlock shine when being particularly unpredictable.
Yet despite all of the above I wasn’t gripped by the events of the show, and rarely found myself laughing out loud. Lots of smiling took place, sure, but these weren’t characters that I felt any real emotion for, and that’s the first time it has been the case for a Ted Danson sitcom. Towards the end it gets a little too plot heavy and forgets to provide the laughs, and even borders on being saccharine when it comes to Bremer’s relationship with Orly. A pilot always has to do a lot of heavy lifting and that’s definitely the case here as we’re introduced to so many characters in the opening twenty minutes, but for the first time with a sitcom from Fey and Carlock some of it felt laboured, and I was even a little bored towards the end as all the various plot strands were wrapped up.
As far as network sitcoms go it’s much, much better than the majority of series that are currently airing, and I wouldn’t want anyone not to give this a shot based on the review. But I hope it develops in to a slightly quirkier, funnier show, and one which is less interested in providing a pat, simplistic message at the end of each episode. With a cast this great it has the potential to be another classic sitcom, there’s no doubt about that, but they need to take it up a notch script wise, and perhaps tackle some far more complicated issues than found here as well.