Great News, the new comedy series from NBC and Tracey Wigfield, is one of those shows where you can hear the pitch meeting in your head. “Imagine if 30 Rock was in a local news station,” sums up almost everything you need to know about the latest collaboration between Wigfield, a writer-producer from The Mindy Project — and, yes, 30 Rock — and Tina Fey & Robert Carlock, who serve as executive producers here. There’s a lot more that goes into getting NBC to give the green light to a new show but after watching the first handful of episodes of Great News, there’s little evidence that Wigfield had more in mind while penning this series.
Mind you, the fact that the entire aesthetic and tone of Wigfield’s latest feels lifted from her previous shows doesn’t doom the series. 30 Rock‘s influence is widespread enough that at least a few of its stylistic knock-offs are going to prove to be entertaining and even insightful, and very few of its descendants have the sense of imagination that made Fey and Carlock’s classic so wildly unpredictable and lovingly weird. Indeed, it’s this lack of invention, in both the characters and the world-building, that makes it so easy to ignore much of Great News, even as it hands several solid comedic roles to very talented veteran performers.
The show is anchored by Briga Heelan‘s Katie, a fledgeling producer at MMN, a fictional New York news station where she must bend to the whims of her boss (Adam Campbell) and two self-involved on-air personalities, played by Nicole Richie and John Michael Higgins. Her professional life has begun to stall out, thanks to being saddled constantly with flimsy, social-media-centric story ideas from Richie’s Portia, and her personal life is dominated by conversations with her hovering mother, Carol (the legendary Andrea Martin). The show’s hook arrives when, toward the end of the pilot, Carol snags an internship at MMN, just as Campbell’s uncaring honcho decides to start putting Katie on bigger, more important stories.
The overarching narrative of the story is that of Katie’s ambitions, and of being hungry for professional challenges but largely uninterested in personal issues, something that Carol is meant to represent in a sense. When Katie is called away on a dangerous live report in the second episode, her mother makes a background deal to ensure she’s taken off the story, worrying that she might be attacked or killed by a wild animal. It’s a familiar dynamic that has plenty of room to grow and re-focus on different dramatic nuances, but that’s not the case here. Wigfield leans on the default position — the old-fashioned and panicked mother constantly embarrassing and tending to her brilliant mess of a single daughter — and the series gives you no sense of what makes this mother and daughter so close besides the careless assumption that they just are because they are mother and daughter.
For all the detail and nuance in performance that Wigfield gets from her cast, which also includes Horatio Sanz and Sheaun McKinney, the show is overtly loopy and severely lacking in personality. At four episodes in, there’s still very little to be gleaned about Katie and who she is away from her mother and her job, which makes her the easier character to write, but harder to empathize with. And for all the odd happenings spoken about in the office, there are almost zero visual gags that underline the heightened, surreal version of New York that these characters exist in. This doesn’t mean that Great News isn’t capable of squeaking out some chuckles and even a few guffaws from an audience, but it renders those jokes anecdotal rather than reflective of genuine feelings and thought-out opinions. It’s the 30 Rock model deployed exclusively to generate just enough laughs to keep people tuning in, rather than to express experience and emotion through humor.
Great News airs on NBC at 9 p.m. on Tuesday nights, starting April 25th.