“You know how in the old sitcom the characters always do the right thing?” says young showrunner Hannah (Crazy ex-girlfriendit is Rachel Bloom) in the pilot for Hulu’s new comedy, To restart. She offers a revamped version of the beloved 1990s family comedy Go up to the right to some Hulu executives. “They don’t always do the right thing anymore!” she promises. “I fuck with it, but in a fun way.”
Television likes to play with itself and To restart joins a long line of TV shows on TV shows, from The Dick Van Dyke Show and Murphy Brown at Supplements and The return. We’re often told to “write what you know best” — hence the frequent appearances of storylines focused on writers’ insecurities, awkward backstage encounters, and feuds with network executives. What better way to overcome your behind-the-scenes traumas and confuse your enemies than to have attractive performers replicate the conflicts and ego-driven tantrums on your own TV series? 30 rock, Bojack Rider and This is the Garry Shandling show (the granddaddy of the meta-TV sitcom) have all set the bar high for small-screen satire. Alas, despite its cute premise, To restart doesn’t quite hit that mark.
Streaming has transformed our ideas about television comedy over the past decade. The broad, risk-averse models of the broadcast network and well-worn punchlines morphed into a more adventurous and open idea of situation comedy, more likely to be filmed in real locations rather than on stage in front of live audiences. direct.
These days, that old-fashioned network TV model sometimes feels like a fossil from a half-forgotten past, when laughs were canned and jokes blasted out punctually every 45 seconds. To restart sets up shop in this gap between old and new styles of entertainment. This is the original idea of Steven Levitan, who co-created modern family, one of broadcast’s latest must-have comedies that could appeal to all ages and hip, square audiences. Levitan worked in the sitcom salt mines for decades before Familywritten for fraser and meta-comedy The Larry Sanders Show (the follow-up of This is the Garry Shandling show) at the beginning of his career before inventing his own hits.
Fictional showrunner Hannah is an independent filmmaker determined to find a new, edgy life in the (fictional) past Go up to the rightabroad, Full house-ish sitcom. In the process, she revives the careers of original cast members Bree (Judy Greer), reed (Keegan Michael Key), Clay (Johnny Knoxville), and former child star Zack (Worthy of Calum), all of which fell into post-primetime purgatory. Reed’s last role was as the voice of a hemorrhoid, but her theatrical aspirations are flattered by Hannah’s darkly comedic script. “It’s both the funniest thing you’ve ever read and you won’t laugh once,” he marvels. So Reed is devastated when Gordon (Paul Reiser), the series’ original showrunner, is hired to partner with Hannah. He wants to skew Hannah’s new take on the show towards the original (read: corny) tone. A generational tussle ensues, which is also a battle between the past and the future of television: a tried-and-tested Pavlovian comedy, all gags and serial characters reported, against a dramedy of the streaming age. with its mixture of genres and mixed atmospheres.
Gordon is politically incorrect at every turn. “Is this one of those diversity intern trainings?” he asks when he meets Hannah’s young and hip writers. “The lessons you will learn? Invaluable. Example: misunderstandings. Always funny!” He is confused by their new references to the Bechdel test. A young woman suggests: “It’s probably too meta but what if [the female characters] link speaking of Alison BechdelNot interested in meta-humor, Gordon brings his own crop of crusty TV veterans who say inappropriate things in the writers’ room but know how to craft classic jokes. “We don’t welcome a live audience every week so they can sit and nod in thoughtful amusement,” he growls. “We need them to actually laugh!”
Nodding my head in vaguely thoughtful amusement, I realized that To restart beat me to all my reviews. Jokes are often clever and well-written, but they don’t really make people laugh. The actors are all delightful to watch (how long have I waited for Judy Greer to get the lead role she deserves?) but the characters remain trapped under a layer of clichés, even as they try to escape their archetypes. . Nothing in the show makes me care what happens to them the way I got so painfully embroiled in the struggles of gloomy, washed-up sitcom star Bojack Horseman and his steadfast Hollywood agent, Princess Carolyn. Which is saying something considering this series was an absurd animation in which Bojack is a real horse and Carolyn is a pink cat.