THE CRAZY ONES: CBS Comedy Pilot Goes Big and Wins

     September 26, 2013

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Of all of the network comedy pilots screened so far this season, The Crazy Ones is the first to come ready-made out of the box.  Most comedy pilots rely heavy on tropes and convention to start with in order to win over a broad audience, but The Crazy Ones does its own thing in the clear hope viewers will join along.  Created by David E. Kelly (Ally McBeal), the show also marks Robin Williams‘ first TV role since Mork & Mindy, illustrating once again that some of the best roles today are on the small screen.  Hit the jump for why “you need a break today.”

the-crazy-ones-robin-williamsThe Crazy Ones is a workplace comedy that follows Simon Robert (Williams) and his daughter Sydney (Sarah Michelle Gellar), who run an ad agency.  Shades of Mad Men?  Williams’ Simon might be what you got if you rolled Don Draper, Bert Cooper and Roger Sterling together and lit them on fire, sure.  Williams is a force, and though the supporting cast hold their own, he’s still the guy in the room everyone is looking at and adjusting themselves to.

The series also stars James Wolk as Zach Cropper, a golden boy copywriter who’s on Simon’s brainwave (and who also has appeared on Mad Men as the mysterious and alluring Bob Benson.  But it’s hard to imaging Wolk as anything but alluring at all times).  The New Adventures of Old Christine‘s Hamish Linklater and The Mindy Project‘s Amanda Setton round out the workplace as a staid art director and ditzy but likable assistant, respectively, but neither get much time in the pilot to see where their characters might be going.

The great cast spits out their dialogue at a rapid-fire pace akin to Gilmore Girls, which whips past viewers at an almost alarming rate.  It leaves no room for a laugh track though, a blessing to be sure (and mainstay of most CBS comedies).  In fact, the whole production — particularly thanks to Williams — has an almost manic vibe, but pauses with enough humor and oddities to make it sweeping without being overwhelming (but it is on the brink: no one spews words out faster and with more crazy accents than Williams, and the rest of the cast seems at times hard pressed to keep up).

Though many brands appear on the show, the producers are quick to say that no brand pays for the mentions, nor do they have script approval.  In the first episode, McDonalds is ready to fire the firm until Simon suddenly promises them a new ad campaign with a big-name star to sing the jingle.  He meets with Kelly Clarkson, playing against type as a spoiled and haughty starlet.  “I don’t sing jingles,” she tells them. “I want to sing about sex.”

the-crazy-ones-sarah-michelle-gellarThe ensuing run around seems almost better suited for an hour-long show that could really explore all of the nuances among the cast dealing with this issue, but things bomb (and are then resolved) in a way that feels natural enough in such a short amount of time. And then it’s time to breathe.

The Crazy Ones‘ title comes from a vintage Apple ad campaign that used that as a tag line, which inspired Sydney to want to go into advertising.  Though she plays the straight man, as it were, to her father’s impulsiveness, their dynamic works exceptionally well, and breathes new life into the tired goofy guy / serious girl duo that has saturated the sitcom scene.  Geller is also able to let off a little comedy steam of her own — a reminder that she can be pretty comical (as she was sometimes on Buffy) given the opportunity.

The Crazy Ones is genuinely funny, with a number of laugh out loud moments (far more than for any other comedy pilot so far this year). The show could be a fantastic collaboration of great acting talent and writing, but of course, pilots are poor indicators of a show’s eventual success, so proceed with caution.  Still, Robin Williams will likely deserve praise regardless. The question will be whether or not his co-stars can keep up with the crazy.

The Crazy Ones premieres Thursday, September 26th at 9 p.m. on CBS

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