Nineties babies, rejoice! By way of CBS, David E. Kelley, the God behind “Ally McBeal,” has smiled down upon us once again. His latest creation, a single-camera workplace comedy called “The Crazy Ones,” has made it possible for Buffy the vampire slayer (Sarah Michelle Gellar, “Ringer”) to call Mrs. Doubtfire (Robin Williams, “The Butler”) her father. The whole thing is delightful and provides bursts of irony-tinged nostalgia. However, the show’s greatest asset is also its greatest downfall. Watchers should be forewarned: The familiar is not always best. Ultimately, “The Crazy Ones” lacks novelty value.
For starters, the show’s plot is nothing new. As a legendary advertising executive (Williams) begins to lose his touch, he depends increasingly on his business partner-daughter (Gellar) to swoop in and save not only the company, but also the family name. The one foils the other: He’s manic and unpredictable; she’s dour and conservative. The same can be said for Williams’ and Gellar’s off-camera personalities. That might account for why it too often feels like they’re merely playing scripted versions of themselves.
It doesn’t help that each star’s likeness to their character extends beyond personality and into circumstance. As an actor, Williams has earned the label of “legend” through his award-winning movies. Gellar, on the other hand, has perennially coat-tailed that kind of fame. Her notoriety traces back to parts in cult classics like “Cruel Intentions,” from which she has gained a hearty following of fans. It’s safe to assume that she—like her character—still hopes to become something more.
Taken together, Williams and Gellar make for a particularly odd “odd couple,” but their combination provides just the right amount of unique celebrity to draw in a varied audience. The ratings showed just that. The premiere won out its time slot with 15.6 million viewers.
Arguably, however, the most attractive aspect of “The Crazy Ones” is not who its stars are, but what they are not: chosen by Chuck Lorre, whose signature laugh track has dominated the network’s comedy lineup in recent years (“Two and a Half Men,” “The Big Bang Theory,” “Mike & Molly,” “Mom”). If anything, it’s nice to know that there are other powers at bay at CBS, and that viewers are willing to invest in characters who come from a different vein than Alan Harper and Sheldon Cooper.
It takes a big kahuna like Kelley to make a half-hour dramedy about ad executives in modern day Chicago called “The Crazy Ones,” considering an hour-long drama already exists about the same group of people in 1960s New York called “Mad Men” (perhaps you’ve heard of it). What’s surprising, however, is the degree to which the show’s success (whatever there is of it) relates back to those who are less seasoned.
Surprisingly, the one who steals the show, James Wolk, just ended a successful stint on “Mad Men.” Whether he’s working his boyish charms or simply showing off his cheekbones, there is no denying that he’s a tour de force as an up-and-coming copywriter. He’s also the only cast member to have found a way to effectively answer Williams’s schtick. Other members of the cast include Hamish Linklater (“The New Adventures of Old Christine”) and Amanda Setton (“The Mindy Project”). While equally talented, they are seemingly less fortunate in regards to the characters they’ve been given. Hopefully, their gifts won’t continue to be wasted on throwaway parts like “neurotic art director” and “dim-witted secretary.”
All in all, “The Crazy Ones” is a flawed comedy, but its saving grace is its youth. There’s hope that, in time, the cast members will find a groove with each other and that their characters will evolve from flat to round. There’s hope, too, that there will be more time. After all, along with good ratings, “The Crazy Ones” is a dream made in product-placement heaven. The pilot episode centered on a McDonald’s campaign, and the brand’s name was mentioned six times. Between the second and third episodes, both Crest toothpaste and All-State Insurance garnered four mentions. If the show fails to return, it won’t be on account of poor sponsor funding. Instead, it will be because those involved fail to reinvent the concept and keep up with the times.
“The Crazy Ones” airs Thursdays on CBS at 8 p.m.