The litmus test for a comedy is simple: does it make you laugh? This fall I’ve tried out 5 new comedies: Free Agents, 2 Broke Girls, Suburgatory, How to Be a Gentleman, and New Girl. Here’s a quick rundown on what the shows are like and whether they’re worth watching.
Laugh rating: A smirk here and there
Fox’s ultra-cutesy comedy about a clueless young woman (Zooey Deschanel) who moves in with three guys after she finds her boyfriend cheating on her. I almost didn’t watch a second episode after I cringed through most of the pilot. Deschanel’s usual quirkiness is pushed way over the top, and her character’s habit of randomly singing quickly became the most annoying thing about the show. Fortunately Jess dials back the singing a bit in episode 2, which was more enjoyable but didn’t put the show on my “will watch” list. I may try a third episode if I’m in the mood for something lighthearted, but the Hallmark movie moments at the end of the episodes tip the scales toward likely not. But if you’re into silly, heartwarming comedies, you might want to give New Girl a try. The three roommates (one who previously played Leo on Veronica Mars) and their frustration with and big brother attitudes toward Jess, are easily the best part of the show.
Laugh rating: Laughing out loud
This isn’t the type of show that would normally catch my interest, but I checked it out solely because of Anthony Stewart Head (Giles on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and King Uther on Merlin). I’m so glad I did! The pilot was more raunchy than I would have liked, but the second episode toned it down some, and the third episode was just about perfect. The acting on this show is just superb. The two leads (Hank Azaria and Kathryn Hahn) say more with their faces in one scene than many shows do in entire episodes (Person of Interest – I’m looking at you!). I’ve heard complaints that the writing in the pilot isn’t so great, but the following episodes stepped things up. (Besides, I think this cast could make reading a cereal box funny.) The side characters are a bit stereotypical, but the show knows that and has fun with it.
The third episode, “Dr. Hu,” made me laugh more than this season’s first 3 episodes of The Big Bang Theory (which I previously considered my favorite currently-airing network comedy) combined. First, they made a lovely Doctor Who joke out of the therapist’s name. Second, watching the irrepressible Emma take over the umbrella ad campaign was hilarious, and I loved her going crazy at the idea of having to pitch. Third, Tony Head made a joke about American sports (which made me flash back to Giles making fun of football – “strap on forty pounds of protective gear just in order to play rugby”). Fourth, Alex and Helen’s individual arguments with Dr. Hu were fun, but nothing compared to their joint meltdown in front of him at the restaurant. And I love that they went from yelling at each other to blaming him, and then settled down to a normal “date.” Fifth, the security guard demonstrating how dangerous an umbrella can be added the perfect closing note to the episode.
How to Be a Gentleman
Laugh rating: A few smiles
Unlike the previous shows, I’ve only gotten to see the pilot of this show, most of which was spoiled by the promos. So I may change my mind about it. This show works best when contrasting the two main characters, uptight etiquette columnist Andrew, and gym rat and former bully Bert. I hope Bert’s efforts to bring Andrew into modern times doesn’t ruin their Odd Couple charm. My favorite part of the show is Andrew’s voiceovers about how a gentleman should behave. I’m not too fond of Bert, or sold on Andrew’s family, and the jokes got a little raunchy for my taste, but I’m going to give it at least another episode.
Wow, while checking names for this post I just realized the actor who plays Andrew, David Hornsby, is married to Emily Deschanel (Bones). But seriously, Henry Hornsby? How could they do that to a kid?
Laugh rating: Some snickering
Like Free Agents (with which it shares a time slot), I checked out this “out of my normal type” of show because of a Whedonverse alum, this time Alan Tudyk (Firefly, Dollhouse). He plays a friend of the dad, and I’ve only seen the pilot of this as well, so I’m not sure how much of a role he’ll have in the show. The premise of the show is fun – a motherless teenager from the heart of the city moves to the suburbs with her dad, and enters a world of overly cheerful, plastic, stay-at-home moms and their mall-trotting daughters. At the end of the pilot she seems to be more okay with her new life, but I hope the show doesn’t lose its fish-out-of-water edge. I’ll definitely be watching the next episode, but most likely online. (Though if I want to help out Free Agents, whose ratings are low, it’s probably better that I watch on Hulu where they can track my viewing than on TV, where they won’t.)
2 Broke Girls
Laugh rating: Chuckling
Just as How to Be a Gentleman brings reminders of The Odd Couple, 2 Broke Girls seems to reimagine another classic show about two working girls who share an apartment – Laverne and Shirley. While Shirley was never rich, her prim and proper ways match Caroline’s very well, and Max’s no-nonsense ways seem very Laverne-esque. The show isn’t all that unique, and neither are the characters and the setting, but for some reason the over-the-top acting just works, and the show manages to feel fresh and relatable at the same time. Caroline may be ditzy, and Max may have a tough exterior, but they both have enough heart to make their unlikely friendship believable. I also love the gimmick of having their earnings toward the cupcake shop add up at the end of each episode.
My verdict: I’m definitely going to keep watching Free Agents and 2 Broke Girls. It’s highly likely that Suburgatory will make it on my list too, but I have to see more than one episode to know for sure. I”ll probably give New Girl and How to Be a Gentleman one more episode to prove themselves to me, but I’m quite likely to drop them as I run out of time to watch shows.