Weird Loners, the latest multi-camera comedy from Fox, nearly lives up to the promise of its clunky title. The four New Yorkers at the center of the series are odd but only up to a point, after which they revert in total to familiar archetypes. Caryn (Becki Newton), for instance, is a dental hygienist with commitment issues, which stop her from settling down with Howard (David Wain), a lame but loving doctor. Her neighbor, Eric (Nate Torrence), is a dim, overweight Mets fan who makes his bread as a tollbooth operator. Most sitcoms are built around variations on these sort of characters, either as part of the central group or as reoccuring supporting roles. The way that this show is written, however, accentuates the total alienation of these characters to the world around them, which makes for a consistently awkward, if vaguely interesting, half-hour comedy.
I use the term “comedy” loosely in this case because, well, the show doesn’t have many jokes, and the humor that is evinced feels uniformly rote. An early scenario has Eric as the only guest at his father’s funeral, being overseen by an elderly man who can’t say his family name correctly. It’s a sad scene that the show’s creators try to play for guffaws, but the end result feels opportunistic, even mean-spirited. Ostensibly, the scene is just an obvious route to get Eric in the same room as Stosh (Zachary Knighton), his rampantly cuckolding, recently fired cousin who quickly schemes his way into moving in with Eric. Every action and exchange seems to be calibrated to move along the familiar plot, which is forgivable enough in a pilot, but this tactic of valuing plot points over laughs is a consistent issue with Weird Loners as a series.
In trying to highlight the faux-uniqueness of these characters, the show allows its narrative to coast on paper-thin, uninventive concepts. The second episode hinges on Caryn telling her grandmother that she’s not getting married, one that leans heavy on the marry-a-doctor stereotype. The pilot features Eric venturing out into the city on his own, and the writers play up his comical daftness as he roams a street fair, only to have the scene predictably culiminate in him meeting up with Zara (Meera Rohit Kumbhani), a free-spirited artist who jumps at the chance to take a room in Caryn’s posh two-story apartment, solidifying the central quartet. The show wears its setup on its sleeve, but the bigger issue stems from its atonality. There’s something just a bit unsettling about Knighton’s character’s aggressive pursuit of Caryn, which the show strains to render as seductive and romantic. That being said, this awkwardness in tone, perhaps inadvertently, does evoke a palpable, yet undeveloped, sense of alienation in these characters to match at least the latter half of the show’s title.
For the most part, Weird Loners is stuck somewhere between Friends and Seinfeld, a rigid, formulaic set of storylines filled with characters that are just a bit more complex than your run-of-the-mill half-hour comedy. But the show doesn’t have the cleverness, nor the sense of learned and experienced detail, that piloted either of those programs. If the show does make some effort to make the loneliness of these characters palpable, all the “weird” elements come off as total affectations, more strained quirkiness than genuine oddness, such as the radical absurdities that typify Louie. At one point, Caryn is unable to meditate with Zara because she can’t help looking at her phone. The scene is emblematic of Weird Loners, which constantly strives to depict distinct personal experiences and unique perspectives but can’t help but to finally play broad with its humor in the hopes of pleasing everyone.
Rating: ★★ Fair — Only for the dedicated
Weird Loners premieres Tuesday, March 31st at 9:30 p.m. on Fox.