This is the first post for Smart TV, a recurring blog series on television. New and old shows on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, premium channels, and network television will be reviewed each week.
Single Parents (ABC)
Taran Killam’s new family sitcom showed a lot of promise in its pilot. The series follows a group of single parents, including Killam as a Dad lost in the “vortex” of raising a child on his own.
The collection of adults was funny early on. Single Parents introduced diverse parenting dilemmas that produced great material without much time to build individual characters.
Single Parents does have a major flaw that could be a nuisance. The kids are supersmart smart alecks. A show can get away with one or two precocious kids (Fresh Off The Boat implements those small dosses well with Evan). An entire group of kindergartners who are wise beyond their years is an implausible and tired sitcom premise.
It is too early to know if that dynamic is a long-term flaw, but Single Parents otherwise looks like a sitcom with potential.
I Feel Bad (NBC)
With two episodes released already, the sitcom I Feel Bad is off to a tepid start. Sarayu Blue and Paul Adelstein star as two solid leads with a good husband-wife dynamic. Blue’s Emet Kamala-Sweetzer is a video game creator and mother of a demanding family. While the family stories have been weak so far, I Feel Bad has only established one solid regular situation.
Most of the show’s funniest scenes have come through Emet’s workplace interactions. Like Black-ish, Emet uses her co-workers as a forum for her family problems. She is also a sane, stable figure in her quirky workplace.
Good sitcoms take a little while to grow. Given that Amy Poehler is involved with the series as a producer, I Feel Bad is worth keeping an eye on.
The Good Place (NBC)
My favorite network show began its third season with a one-hour episode. After a brief tease in Season Two’s amazing finale, the full gang returned to earth to reboot their lives.
The actors on The Good Place form a strong ensemble cast. The four humans, afterlife guide Michael, and artificial intelligent entity Janet work so well together. There are certain episodes that serve as reminders of how great Ted Danson can be. Thursday’s episode was another example of his talent. Not only has Danson’s character experienced atypical sitcom growth, but his energy is the glue of the series.
The Goldbergs (ABC)
The 1980-something sitcom has jumped the shark. In its sixth season, The Goldbergs is creating new character arcs for the Goldberg children. High school senior Barry is engaged to Lainey. Erica is still dropping out of college to be in a parent-safe rock band.
Keeping stories fresh as young actors age is one of the toughest challenges for a sitcom. The self-imposed restriction of the 1980’s makes it even more difficult for The Goldbergs. The kids can only get so old in the same decade. There are also a finite number of Eighties pop-culture moments to recreate.
With the spin-off Schooled set for a mid-season debut, The Goldbergs is stretching itself so thin that Season Six should be the show’s last season.
Saturday Night Live (NBC)
The variety TV show returned for its 44th year last night. SNL only added new cast member Ego Nwodim for the 2018-19 run. It is the first time that just one featured player was added to SNL since Jon Rudnitsky in 2015.
SNL parodied the Brett Kavanaugh hearings in a Cold Open that included Matt Damon and Rachel Dratch. The Pete Davidson-Ariana Grande engagement was the season premiere’s topic du jour. The surprise romance was brought up on three separate occasions (probably two too many).
Kanye West performed with SNL’s band at the end of the episode. It was a welcome change to the usual post-show hugs. The only artist that I can recall closing the episode with a third song was U2 in 2004. This would be a great regular change to the show. A new single or cover song gives the audience something to look forward to after the last sketch.
Awkwafina and Travis Scott are set to host SNL next week.
I’m Dying Up Here (Showtime)
The Showtime series was canceled during the same week that I began bingeing the first season. It is not hard to see why the series on stand-up comedy bombed after just two seasons.
I’m Dying Up Here follows the usual music biopic formula. In the pursuit of stardom, the highs and lows of a comic’s stage time are surrounded by sex and drugs. There were more than a few scenes where the usual temptations were excessive and did not move the story.
I’m Dying Up Here did a good job of putting the audience in the shoes of stand-up comics, but the drama was better suited for a half-hour time slot instead of a full hour. The interesting stage moments are weighed down by characters who did not grow outside of Goldie’s comedy club for half the first season. Given its cancellation and too slow build, the series is not worth revisiting.
Jim Carrey is a genius. In Kidding, the comedian plays Fred Rodgers-type children’s TV host Jeff Pickles. Carrey nails the gentleness of the character with astonishing delicacy. Pickles visits hospitals and believes in everyone’s good side. He is even quick to ask people to “not use a bad word when you can use a good word.”
Despite the kind exterior, Jeff Pickle’s life is falling apart. His character is suffering Mrs. Doubtfire-ish separation proximity issues from his family. He is also struggling with the death of one his twin sons. Carrey excels at this side of Jeff Pickles too. His character has not snapped in the over-the-top way that has defined Carrey’s comedy, but with a more believable subdued disconnection with reality.
Catherine Kenner, Frank Langella, and Judy Greer are fantastic as Jeff Pickle’s family members and fictional TV co-workers, but there is no mistake that Kidding is Jim Carrey’s show.