Sunday, September 18, 2011

Pilot Inspektor Tim: Free Agents

The show: Free Agents, Wednesdays on NBC

The premise in ten words or less? Two coworkers deal with the aftermath of sleeping together.

Any good? On paper? Hell yeah! Free Agents was adapted for American TV from a British show of the same name by John Enbom, co-creator and head writer of Party Down, one of the greatest sitcoms of all time. It stars Kathryn Hahn, who I've loved ever since I saw her in Step Brothers, as well as Buffy alum Anthony Stewart Head and frequent David Wain collaborator Joe Lo Truglio. It seems like it should be funny as hell.

But in practice? I sat stony-faced through almost the entire pilot.

The show is a workplace sitcom (that also occasionally follows its characters home) set in a PR firm with a perverted boss (Head) and a bunch of nosy and / or generically wacky coworkers backing up its two leads. Kathryn Hahn is Helen, still recovering from the death of her fiance a year ago (to the show's credit, it plays this more darkly comic than tragic), while Hank Azaria is Alex, still stung from his recent divorce. The show opens with the two having a one-night stand and then follows them into work the next day for the awkward aftermath, but hints that true romance may await in their future.

And there's the biggest problem – Azaria and Hahn really, really don't have romantic chemistry. I like that the show attempts to give them fast-paced dialogue to ping-pong back and forth, but by the end of the pilot I gave less of a shit whether these two characters ever end up together than who the current cricket world champion is. Azaria gave voice to a number of classic characters on The Simpsons (Moe, Wiggum, Apu, Chalmers, Carl, Comic Book Guy, etc.), but the clingy, weepy, emotionally damaged middle-aged divorcĂ©e he plays here is such an unappealing sitcom lead. I mean, I'm all for sitcom characters being broken people. They just need to be funny broken people.

Speaking of, the one character who actually made me laugh a couple times in this pilot was one of the coworkers played by Al Madrigal, an actor I've never seen before, who keeps desperately trying and failing to insert himself into his coworkers' social plans. This wasn't a character who even began to hint at the brilliance of the Party Down ensemble, but hey, it's something. Maybe John Enbom can make a couple more characters actually funny moving forward.

Will I watch again? If I was basing this purely on laugh count, no, but the guiding hand of Enbom and the presence of Kathryn Hahn, Anthony Stewart Head, and Joe Lo Truglio make it so difficult for me to imagine that this show has nothing to offer. Then again, Running Wilde was created by Mitch Hurwitz and starred Will Arnett and David Cross and had a narrator, and that sure as fuck didn't make it Arrested Development. I'll give Free Agents one more shot. If I laugh a few times, maybe I can brush the pilot off as growing pains. If not, well, there's still a million more sitcoms premiering in the next couple weeks.

Premise: C+

Execution: C

Performances: B

Potential: B


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