Quick Take: Free Agents, "Pilot"
"You're an absolute mess." - Helen
Review: Free Agents, "Pilot"
(S0101) I have no doubt there is a network out there capable of wringing laughs out of a half-hour sitcom about a budding relationship between a man going through a divorce and a widow. HBO could certainly do it. Showtime, FX, or Comedy Central probably could to. Unfortunately, NBC simply can't.
In the new NBC show Free Agents, Hank Azaria and Kathryn Hahn play Alex and Helen, co-workers at a sleazy PR firm. When the pilot begins we find the two in bed, although they are far from basking in any sort of post-coital glow. Helen is staring at super-sized pictures of her dead husband (or maybe fiance?) and Alex is crying because his ugly divorce is keeping him from his kid's birthday party.
I know what you're thinking: "I like Hank Azaria. Kathryn Hahn was in Anchorman and Step Brothers, and those movies kicked ass! The premise sounds pretty edgy, maybe I could get into this." Think again. You cannot get into Free Agents. The death and the divorce stuff isn't all artistic and dark, yet surprisingly endearing the way it is on Louie. This isn't Louie, Free Agents is basically your run of the mill sitcom -- an unnecessarily depressing run of the mill sitcom, but run of the mill nonetheless.
After their night of teary-eyed passion, Helen basically wants nothing to do with Alex. He's far too fragile to consider dating at the moment. "You're an absolute mess," she says. "I'm a MESS, but its not ABSOLUTE!" he replies. (This is what passes for a joke on Free Agents. No joke). Alex goes the exactly opposite directions and, for all intents and purposes, stalks the shit out of Helen, Danielle-style. Alex doesn't really have any particularly redeeming qualities, so it makes sense that Helen doesn't seem particularly attracted to him. And the pilot gives the impression that only reason Alex is pursuing Helen is to numb the pain of his divorce.
I mean sheesh, can we go back to that cute show about Kelly Bundy and Gob's baby? I'm getting depressed just thinking about this stuff.
Take a guess how the pilot ends. Still waiting. Okay, if you guessed: "Helen realizes her husband has been in the ground for long enough (one whole year) and she needs to start moving on. And then Alex realizes Helen is more than just a way for him to get over his wife. And then they wind up in the same position they began the episode: in bed together," you win. Well actually -- if you have seen enough of these kinds of shows to make the right guess just then -- it isn't really much of a win, is it?
When watching and reviewing these pilots, the bottom line hinges on a question you have to ask yourself: "Can I see this becoming a show?" Take Up All Night, the pilot that aired immediately before Free Agents, for example. I didn't think the episode itself was anything particularly special, but I can see how there could be a show somewhere inside it. I can imagine a competent show runner doing something with the idea of Will Arnett and Christina Applegate as new parents, struggling to balance work and family. That's a foundation -- not a particularly unique foundation, but a foundation none the less. The idea of two miserable people who don't seem to like each other very much falling into bed together out of sheer desperation isn't much of a foundation. Especially if that foundation is tasked with holding up the framework of a very flimsy sitcom.