NBC’s Sean Saves the World premiered last night, and my biggest takeaway from watching it is that it’s in desperate need of a straight man. And no, that’s not a comment about Sean Hayes’ homosexuality, although I’ll pat myself on the back for that pun. Carrie Bradshaw would be proud. But in this case I’m referring to a comedic straight man. This show just doesn’t have one. Most of the characters are over-the-top, including Sean himself (no surprise there), and the ones who aren’t are too uninteresting. Yes, I realize that might sound like I’m asking too much, but a straight man needs to find a happy medium between humorless and manic. And I just didn’t see that happy medium at play here.
Sean Hayes pretty much just plays a slightly more competent Jack McFarland raising a teenage daughter. His every movement is exaggerated and every line should just be punctuated with a pair of jazz hands. It doesn’t help that the jokes, which rely on sitcom cliches (repeated sight gags you can see coming from a mile away, a character insulting someone they don’t realize is on speaker phone, etc.), just aren’t very funny.
It’s always really risky to make a show’s protagonist so over-the-top. It’s why I expressed skepticism when I heard Tracy Morgan was getting his own show. If the main character is extra-eccentric and wacky, you have to have enough rational supporting characters to ground the show and keep the viewer from going insane. A show where I think it worked really well was The New Adventures of Old Christine, in which Julia Louis-Dreyfus was completely nuts (and hilarious) and totally incompetent, but her friends and family were normal enough — without being boring — to keep the show from careening off the tracks. Or look at Will & Grace. Crazy Jack and Karen were foils to the more rational Will and Grace. Basically, you can’t have a Kramer without a good Seinfeld to back him up.
The supporting cast doesn’t provide that much-needed contrast for Sean. Megan Hilty (RIP Smash) and Echo Kellum (RIP Ben & Kate) are hammy and oddball, respectively, as his co-workers. Thomas Lennon, with his deadpan delivery and dark mustache, seems to be aiming for some kind of Ron Swanson thing as Sean’s boss, but no one can recreate Nick Offerman’s brilliance, so it just ends up being forced and annoying. A lot of the actors look like they’re using twenty extra muscles for even the simplest movements, which unfortunately seems to be the trend for multi-camera sitcoms these days. And don’t even get me started on that laugh track. IT’S NOT FUNNY! STOP LAUGHING SO HARD AT IT!
On the other end of the spectrum, Sean’s daughter, played by Samantha Isler, is the closest thing this show has to a straight man, but she’s just not interesting enough for it to really work. A straight man still needs quirks and opportunities for comedy. She’s too wooden and practically blended into the scenery for me. Then there’s Sean’s mom, a character on whom Linda Lavin is completely wasted. Most of the people on this show are completely wasted, because I’ve seen them all do much better things with much better material.
(Image: NBC via IMDB)