Thursday, October 03, 2013

My review of THE CRAZY ONES

THE CRAZY ONES, heralding Robin Williams’ return to the small screen debuted last week to big numbers for CBS. It handily trounced the new Michael J. Fox sitcom on NBC. CBS is touting it as this season’s runaway hit. And maybe it is. It’s sure off to a good start.

But…

It was coming off the one hour premier of THE BIG BANG THEORY, which got the best numbers it has ever gotten. It featured a big name and was heavily promoted. Actually, several big names. Sarah Michelle Geller is no slouch and producer/creator David E. Kelley is a proven 800 pound gorilla.

Personally, I had problems with THE CRAZY ONES. Here’s why:

There’s an expression that comedy writers have called “Like-a-joke.” It’s a line that has the rhythm of a joke but no real punch line. They’re just words strung together, done with funny accents, goofy voices, or comic style windups. But ultimately there’s no there there. That’s what THE CRAZY ONES was. I guess they figured if Robin Williams could just be manic for a half hour and barrage you with shtick that you’d laugh.

But nothing he said was funny. It was all forced. And then having a character whose sole function was to laugh at his routines made it seem all the more desperate.

In a way, I was a little annoyed at the show. It’s as if Kelley was saying, “Just throw a lot of stuff at the audience real fast in a super slick package and they won’t know any better.” God, I hope he’s not right.

The unstated issue here is that David E. Kelley is not a comedy writer. He’s a wonderful drama and light-drama writer. I’ve loved his work since L.A. LAW and marvel at how prolific he is. There are episodes of THE PRACTICE that rival the writing of any of today’s extraordinary dramas.

But he’s not a comedy writer. Throwing in a funny line now and again or creating quirky characters is not the same as constructing a half-hour with wall-to-wall laughs.

And the sense I got was that Robin was probably ad libbing like crazy trying to make something of the material.

Any chance they could get the MORK writers? They’re probably all available.

Aside from that they had Sarah Michelle Geller in the world’s most thankless role. She’s the wet blanket – always scowling, always rolling her eyes. “Dad, you can’t do that.” “Dad, you can’t say that.” Ugh!  At least Mindy wasn’t asked to always be exasperated.

Rounding out the cast was James Wolk playing the exact same character he plays on MAD MEN (only the ad agency is different), and Hamish Linklater playing the character he’s played in eight other series.

I also didn’t appreciate being subjected to a half hour commercial for McDonalds.

All in all, I just felt manipulated. To borrow a phrase from another fast food chain – “Where’s the beef?”

In deference to Robin Williams I’ll probably watch another episode. And it was just the pilot. Many series need the time to grow and find themselves. But one more McDLT and I’m gone.

61 comments:

Bruce said...

Agree with most of what you wrote here. I found the whole Kelly Clarkson promotion much more annoying/disturbing than the McDonalds part though- the acting, the singing, the set-up- all just awful.

PatGLex said...

I only watched the first half of the show; after they got the account redo
I dropped out -- not funny, not interested.

Igor said...

"Like a joke". Interesting. I've not seen the show, but in a promo, Sarah Michelle Geller's character says to Williams' character (approx): "But you were just stringing together a bunch of adjectives."

Whether that's just another line, or it's a note to the audience, "Yeh, we know" - I dunno.

Aaron Sheckley said...

I decided to check it out on the off chance that it would be something other than Robin Williams doing the same old tired Robin Williams thing. Naturally, I was disappointed. Williams reminds me of that odd Uncle you see once a year at Thanksgiving, who tells you the same jokes and funny stories every year because he can't remember that he already told them.

Wendy M Grossman said...

I actually expected this show to be a disaster for the reasons you give: kelley id not a comedy writer even though I was astonished that Boston legal was considered a drama and gellar is not a comedy actress. I am not a huge Williams fan anyway. so call me unsurprised but disappointed at the waste of talent and time. kelley's last two shows were also disappointing, unfortunately.

wg

Ed said...

I watched. I liked it...but didn't love it.

I think the show's got great potential. The ad world setting, the cast and the stakes in running a high-end but struggling ad firm provide a good set-up.

Here's what bothered me- that show seemed like it was trying REALLY hard to be a hit. Williams doing Williams-like things, stunt casting with Kelly Clarkson, a little drama mixed in. I know it's hard and rarely right...but it seems like a good sitcom should come across as just naturally funny.

Andy P. said...

It felt rushed for a half hour. I'm not convinced Kelley does half hours well. I wanted an hour to flesh out the characters so it wasn't 22 minutes of zany. Interested to see where they go but not sure how long I'll stick around.

Andy P. said...

Side question for Ken: So, after a new show premieres, we always hear about how the successful ones pulled in incredible numbers and it looks to be a hit and blah, blah, blah. Then, after the show's second airing, we inevitably get the news that they slipped/fell in the ratings and how disastrous this is and blah, blah, blah.

Isn't a drop expected? Surely, a show that's hyped a lot will draw a large initial audience who want to give it a try. And statistically speaking, some of them just aren't going to like what they see so they won't return next week. Does no one who reports on shows understand this?

Why even try to judge a show's success based on initial outings? Sure, strong numbers on a premiere are a good sign but why sound the death knell if the same numbers don't stick around the next week. (I imagine shows that retain or grow their audience after a premiere are rare.)

Thoughts?

Michael E. (not a robot, really) said...

I really wanted to like this show because I've liked Robin Williams' work in the past. I was grossly disappointed, though. I couldn't get through the pilot, and I tried watching the second episode. Didn't make it more than 5 minutes. And I'm a sitcom junkie. Oh, well.

mickey said...

"...It’s a line that has the rhythm of a joke but no real punch line. They’re just words strung together, done with funny accents, goofy voices, or comic style windups...."

To me, that describes the bulk of Robin Williams' comedy shtick. The sheer speed and energy of the delivery is undoubtedly clever and the audience is wowed into thinking what they heard is funny, but too often there is no there there.

John (not McCain) said...

"And then having a character whose sole function was to laugh at his routines made it seem all the more desperate."


Ed McMahon lives!

DBA said...

The weird thing is, during that one scene with Gellar trying to get Williams to go into the meeting...something about it read very Kelly to me, in the sense that I thought "oh this isn't a sitcom sitcom, it's going to be a half-hour drama that is more frequently funny than something marketed as a drama should be". It almost seemed like they're heading in the direction that the title isn't just a reference to the commercial Gellar mentions in the first episode. I think they're going the Williams-character-has-serious-mental-illness route. I'm not sure how funny that might be, but SMG didn't just seem exasperated to me, she seemed like she was trying to keep RW together when he's go off on his not-funny, random riffs. IF that's the direction they're going, I'd be less frustrated with Williams doing that shtick with no there there. He thinks he's being funny, but it's really just sad. That's how it plays to me for real. If that actually turns out to be the plot, I'm not sure this show will be a comedy, but it'd make more sense.

Curt Alliaume said...

I have to admit I started getting a little cautious when Robin Williams started making the rounds of interviews and made it clear one of the reasons he's doing this series is he needs the money. There were some "I love the material" quotes in there too, but overall it didn't instill confidence.

Steven said...

So far the only new sitcom I've remotely liked is Back in the Game.

The premise isn't exactly original but the writing has a sharpness to it that only comes when the writer's have a firm grasp of who the characters are or what they'll eventually become.

Despite it's limiting premise I'm hoping it's allowed to stay on the air at least one season and isn't drowned out by the explicable critical acclaim heaped on The Goldbergs.

Quiet Jim said...

Personally, I had problems with THE CRAZY ONES. Here’s why:It's unwatchable

Joseph Scarbrough said...

As much as I like Robin Williams and Michael J. Fox, I'm not even bothering with their new shows... I've been trying for years to give new shows a try, even when they claim to be "different than what's already on TV" *cough*GLEE*cough* only to see they're all the same kind of garbage that continues to infest the television landscape, so yeah.

Charlie O'Brien said...

Just working my way through the real "Mad Men" on netflix. Now, *that's* funny... ;)
I'll have to check out episode 2 - missed the pilot. I invested an hour into Michael J. Fox's two episode NBC debut last week - and was quickly squirming by the middle of episode 2.

B.B. Callow said...

I watched it and really enjoyed it—one of the chief reasons being the writing. No, the show doesn’t rely solely on the rapid-fire bang-bang-joke, bang-bang-joke routine employed by most sitcoms (although there were a few), rather it’s anchored in the relationship between the father (RW) and his daughter (SMG). There were some nice genuine moments spread throughout, and genuine moments are not something you typically (if ever) see in Big Bang Theory, Two and a Half Men, Two Broke Girls, et al.

With the exception of when Robin and James WoIk improvised a “sexy” McD jingle for Kelly Clarkson, I didn’t get a sense that Robin Williams was ad-libbing like crazy, as Ken said. In fact, I thought he was refreshingly restrained. Sure, there were traces of the Robin Williams we all know—but, hell, that’s why we tuned in.

As for the show being one long promotion for McDonalds, I think that’s a tad unfair. The McDonald’s execs were shown as being rather hard-nosed, ruthless business types. Didn’t you wonder how (the real) McDonalds people would react seeing themselves portrayed this way?
Plus, I thought it was a brave choice to have the ad agency vie to win the account of a real corporation—and one known for spending big $$ on advertising. Much more effective than using a fictitious (yet approximate) name such as McDumphies or McDemons.

I suspect that future shows will feature other real companies. I’m not a fan of product placement, but I do appreciate a little authenticity now and then.

Anonymous said...

It's so weird. You have these multimillion dollar productions, and the audience just yawns, or feels uncomfortable. Then you have Louis CK armed with a Red Cam he bought himself, a few notions, some that are even extremely unlikely, and I watch transfixed, and can't wait for the next one.
I think this genre of entertainment is turning into what vaudeville was in the early '30's. It's dead. It just doesn't want to believe it, because it doesn't know what to do about it. How can you collectively explain to a format "just die"?
You can't. So we just have to watch it as it lays in bed, like an old senile confederate soldier, shouting out orders to the nurse, waving it's saber, asking for the latest news from Atlanta. The nurse only plays along because she still gets paid.

-Eric

Wayne said...

It's the opposite of Mad Men, which came from Matthew Weiner, who wrote Becker.
Do you think it's easier for a comedy writer to fake drama than for a drama writer to fake comedy?
Personally I think David E. Kelley can do it all. Drama, comedy, Michelle Pfeiffer.

Eduardo Jencarelli said...

Didn't Ally McBeal win the Best Comedy Series emmy?

Dan Ball said...

The combination of Robin Williams, CBS, and Sarah Michelle Gellar didn't exactly appeal to me. I admire Robin Williams, but I feel like he's been lost for the last few years. The way I'd remedy his career is by handing some money to Peter Weir, another guy who's been MIA for the last decade, and have them put themselves back on the map. Why Williams could make TV work again, I don't think this is the right way to do it. I'd love to see him try a CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM, single-cam. Or maybe show up on the next installments of ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT as Lucille's long-lost brother.

But enough of this show. Ken, I'm much more interested in your thoughts on BROOKLYN NINE-NINE. You're a PARKS & RECREATION fan and with this one being headed up by P&R scribes Dan Goor and Mike Schur, I thought you'd be all over it. Personally, I think it's off to a great start, even better than PARKS. PARKS didn't get going until halfway through S2, but B99 is already at that point, I think. The pilot was a drag because all the funny gags were in the trailers, but the second episode was pretty fresh and seemed even funnier.

I'd also want to hear about your thoughts on Michael J. Fox, but it suffers from being on NBC and there's only so much one can say about that. It's nice seeing him back doing comedy, but NBC's meddling (read: "Today Show" product placement) with the end product is unsettling. At least in the pilot it was. Haven't seen the others yet. On the whole, I just get the feeling that NBC isn't going to let this show breathe on its own. They're going to milk the Parkinson's thing and promote it to death in hopes that their latest gimmick will drive up viewership to unrealistic heights.

Going back to TV show pet peeves and "Today Show" product placement, I'm peeved when NBC works "The Today Show" into other movies or shows without treating it as a unique entity. A good example is a scene when Michael J. Fox's character is interviewed by Matt Lauer and Samantha Guthrie on "Today" in the pilot of THE MICHAEL J. FOX SHOW.

For one, scenes like this usually add nothing to the storyline. Two, I never really believe that the scenes could've been filmed during an actual live broadcast of "Today". It's like the writers of the shows assume that the "Today Show" is scripted the exact same way as their shows are. Rather than adapting the two formats, they just blindly conform the news format to the scripted style and the result is a lousy emulation that sticks out like a sore thumb. At least to me. To anyone who hasn't spent years of their life doing news and weather "cut-ins" during "Today", you probably have no clue what I'm talking about. Just have faith that I know what I'm talking about and regard NBC and this practice with contempt until it's fixed. :)

Dan Ball said...

After re-reading my [half-cocked] post, I realized the Williams/Weir thing didn't make sense. Peter Weir directed Robin Williams in DEAD POETS SOCIETY, but his previous film, THE WAY BACK (the movie about the WWII prison camp escapees, not the Steve Carell movie), wasn't amazing. I was saying Peter Weir should be given money to make another movie with Robin Williams. I consider TWB to be Weir's first unlikable movie, so he should be given a chance to do more. In either case, both of them are too young to hang it up and they should be given more opportunities to shine than what they're currently being given.

Anita Bonita said...

All I'll say is this: I spent four years in my early twenties working in the creative department of a Very Large Madison Avenue Monolith ... and this felt like home. Your mileage will probably vary.

KelseyL said...

Friday question: As a radio guy, and a Cheers writer/producer, your thoughts on the news about Jean Kasem battling Casey's kids? I grew up listening to AT40 (and Shaggy on Scooby Doo), so I'm just sad he's ailing

Mike McCann said...

When you have an athlete who's fallen into a slump, wasn't it conventional wisdom to call up a "Quarterback Doctor" like a Sid Gillman or a "Pitching Guru" such as Johnny Sain for advice. Since Garry Marshall launched Robin Williams onto TV -- in the role with which he's still synonymous -- would it have hurt Kelly or someone inside CBS to call the esteemed Mr. Marshall and ask how to again make Robin sparkle on the small screen?
That's why people like Gillman, Sain and Marshall are considered experts.

Eric J said...

I'm afraid Anonymous -Eric- has captured big production American television sitcoms perfectly. It's vaudeville in the 30's; it's dead, but it doesn't know it. There are more than a few old senile Confederate soldiers posting here who analyze it like it was still alive.

Hell, they're analyzing Robin Williams like he's still alive. He overdosed from delivering too many gratuitous cocaine jokes long ago.

chuckcd said...

I agree with you Ken.
The on camera laugh track has to go.
Saying as much as you can as fast as you can isn't really funny.

Anonymous said...

So this is another Studio 60, with David Kelley trying to comedy instead of Aaron Sorkin.

skarab said...

Ken-Thanks for this post. I was extremely leery about "The Crazy Ones" mainly because of the reverent tone of the first round of promos; I thought that if it were a comedy there should be at least a couple of actual laughs in the ads.

Cap'n Bob said...

You defined perfectly why I've never been a Robin Williams fan. Someone needds to give him a strong does of Ritalin and sit him in a corner.

Chester said...

Quiet Jim, Ken watched it. I watched it. Millions of others watched it. Clearly, it's not unwatchable.

Michael E, not sure how you could watch the 2nd episode since, at the time of this writing, has yet to air.

Mike McCann, are you suggesting David E. Kelly doesn't fit your definition of an "expert"?


chuckcd, there's no laugh track. You sure you watched the same program?

Charles H. Bryan said...

I watched the show not expecting to be wowed, and I wasn't. However, there's a vein to be worked, if Robin Williams will let it, of the character who is an ex-wunderkind, the fading star. I'd love to see him say the line "You know, even I've gotten a little tired of constantly trying to be me" in a way that garners sympathy. (And then I would like Sara Michelle Gellar to respond "I miss killing vampires, at least the ones I didn't screw", just so she gets the crazy line.) I wonder if this show might actually work better as an hour (I mean, 42 minute) long light drama.

But I'll stick with it for a while. I don't have bad feelings towards Robin Williams and I have nothing but good feelings for Sara Michelle Gellar and Hamish Linklater.

Rich said...

One thing unmentioned, but remarkable -- what's with the stale premise of an ad agency circa 1983? Does anyone on this show realize that the world of advertising has changed radically in the last 30 years, and the "bad old days" of huge agencies chasing million dollar accounts is (mostly) history? Realistically, Williams would have 'aged out' of the big agency ad world 20 years ago, and would be free-lancing or have a small boutique with regional clients pitching viral YouTube campaigns and authentically crazy stuff. Why not make Williams the ad salesman of a metropolitan newspaper, and pretend that nothing has changed in journalism since the Clinton presidency?

RCP said...

Funnily enough, I spent yesterday as a background extra on 'The Crazy Ones'. Keep watching folks, it gets better.

Hamid said...

Hey Ken. Off-topic but as you're a big fan of Natalie Wood, thought you'd like to know about a wonderful BBC documentary that aired here a few nights ago called Secret Voices of Hollywood, which was about the "ghost singers" who recorded the vocals for Hollywood stars to lip sync to. One section of the documentary was about West Side Story and told of how Natalie Wood wasn't informed her songs would be dubbed over with someone else's vocals. In fact, they said she didn't find out till she attended the premiere and was furious. Lots of interesting interviews, the likes of Rita Moreno, who talked about being dubbed in West Side Story too, and ghost singers Marni Nixon and India Adams. Hopefully BBC America will screen it at some point.

Steve said...

Is this what happens now that Modern Family and Big Bang Theory have made it safe to program sitcoms? Trying to make Robin Williams funny, making Sean Hayes unfunny, thinking Beau Bridges can even be funny and totally wasting the talent of Margo Martindale.

Anonymous said...

Watch the early episodes of The Practice. This show is like what that show started out as. Then they took their comic character and made him the ethical center of the show-

Chris Tucker to Morgan Freeman style.

DwWashburn said...

I never base my opinion on the pilot only. They are always clumsy and usually have little plot as they are trying to identify key personnel and places. After three or four episodes I'll have an opinion.

Anth said...

I wanted to like it so much, but I think this is pretty spot-on. I chuckled a couple times, but compare that to Brooklyn 99, where every episode so far featured one moment so perfect I had to go back and watch it again 3 or 4 times (this week: Andy Samberg's "That's my grandson!").

Robin Williams is someone I prefer in smaller doses to be honest, but I think he put in a solid performance and was the clear MVP of the show (although there were some bits, like the drive-thru song, that were excruciating). And Sarah Michelle Gellar, who I've always loved, is fine, but as anyone who's seen her host SNL can attest, she's really good at comedy--I wish this show would allow her to do some.

I think DBA summed it up perfectly with his comment: it's a half-hour drama with jokes.

Michael E. (not a robot, really) said...

Chester,

I came back expressly to correct this. I saw the pilot twice, or tried to. It was such an unpleasant experience that I didn't even realize the 2nd episode was first playing tonight.

That being said, I'm giving "Sean" a chance tonight. We shall see.

Sorry I goofed that one :(

ODJennings said...

The second episode was 100X better.

Or, maybe after sitting through The Millers right before it, anything, even a test pattern, would have seemed like pure genius by comparison.

Vic said...

This has nothing to do with The Crazy Ones, Ken. You've discussed your frustration with CBS/Paramount because of their refusal to do anything with Almost Perfect. Well, a company named Mill Creek Entertainment has licensed Wings from Paramount for DVD release -- reissue of the original Wings DVDs, I assume -- and it occurred to me that since Mill Creek apparently has set up some sort of licensing arrangement with Paramount, you have nothing to lose by approaching Mill Creek about doing something with Almost Perfect. No guarantees, of course, that they'd release it, but it's not going to hurt to try.

Johnny Walker said...

A lot of interesting comments here that actually make me want to check this show out. I'm a big fan of Williams, as a performer and as a person, and I think he's capable of some incredible stuff. I hope this isn't just a pale Mork facsimile, though. He's a great dramatic actor, too.

I'm especially intrigued by the notion that Williams isn't supposed to be funny in this - but maybe that commenter was being sarcastic.

Johnny Walker said...

Also, for those who think he hasn't done any decent, interesting work in a long time, you should check out WORLD'S GREATEST DAD. A fantastic movie by Bobcat Goldthwait.

Charles H. Bryan said...

We should do this more often - sort of like a TV club. Pick a show that week that we'll all watch and review. Or pick a series. Give us an assignment, Ken!

Greg Anders said...

Hey Ken,

You haven't gave your always hilarious take on this season's slate of new shows. Any thoughts?

I personally thought Brooklyn Nine-Nine and We Are Men looked promising.

cadavra said...

I loved the pilot (haven't seen #2 yet). Lovely combination of Kelley's brains and Williams' wit, with a nice dose of heart for color. Robin playing the older, more settled version of himself was splendid, and Gellar, an actress I've never cared for, did an ace job. So sue me.

Vic: Mill Creek generally licenses stuff that's already been put out. Not likely they'll release anything "new," as they'd be on the hook for the remastering costs.

A_Homer said...

I saw it. The context would work in other casting and as a dramedy perhaps. I'm not surprised, I was not going to check out this show based on Geller (who had "Buffy" seemingly almost custom-made for her character traits, facial expressions and since then nothing else fits her)and certainly not Williams. Because you don't spend the money to get Williams and have him really share scenes and dialog in a contemporary way (versus say, a "Happy Days" way of gag gag gag.)

On another note, Williams is first definitely alot of live energy, and in the past, was alot of synapses firing off that seemed quick to catch ideas. When he's "on",great, but that's not made for capturing in weekly shows. And it's not the 70s or 80s. He didn't find a character to work out in tv yet. Perhaps the director figures just take over and tune to Williams, like stars will. I recall watching him years ago as a guest on "Whose line is it" and there with improve stars, he just didn't share or mesh in an ensemble improv as much as ham it up and call attention to himself in lesser ideas.

Curt Alliaume said...

By the way, per Sarah Michelle Gellar, McDonald's wasn't paid for product placement in the first episode.

Jeremiah Avery said...

Having watched the first two episodes, strangely enough I thought the pilot episode was funnier. The pilot had enough humor in it to have me think it had potential and to watch the subsequent episode.

However, after watching the second episode, I agree with the sentiment of others in this thread in that it seems like it's trying to be a drama masked as a comedy. As Ken said (I'm paraphrasing) having characters with quirks does not necessarily make the show a comedy.

I'll watch next week's episode but if they start to turn Robin Williams' character into an expy of Denny Crane I'll probably stop watching.

Mike McCann said...

Per Curt,

Then we can assume Crest got a freebie as well in episode 2?

BTW, hate to seem like the grim reaper, but would anyone like to guess the number of episodes THE CRAZY ONES lasts? I'd put the over/under at 13.

Dale said...

It is interesting how tates differ. A mate and I tried watching Lewis CK the other night. After listening to a joke about kids opening milk cartons, we looked at each other and turned it off out of sheer boredom.

I have not seen the latest Williams show. I am surprised he is doing TV again.

canda said...

Robin Williams has to have a studio audience, plain and simple. If he has no one to play off of, you f=get the stilted performance he's giving you. Yes, Kelly is not a comedy writer, and hands-on, so it will never work.

Kier Z said...

I have now watched two episodes and I am about to give up on the show. It seems to me that the show does not know if it wants to be a sophisticated adult comedy or a show for teenagers full of sophomoric humor. On the one hand, there is the father daughter dynamic which in a lot of ways works very well. On the other hand, the show has Robin William’s character talking to his daughter about penises. There are also references to duck anuses and scat jokes; I found myself cringing.

I suspect that teenagers will be bored, adults will be offended and the show will lose its audience very quickly and be canceled. It is a shame, because I like the show’s premise and I like the characters, but you can’t make a show that appeals to everyone and when you try, you get a show that appeals to no one.

gottacook said...

I saw the first 10 minutes of the premiere. Williams was funnier in Awakenings than in this role.

Ike Iszany said...

Is there really anyone left that still finds Robin Williams funny?

thesoundofonehandtyping said...

We got about five minutes into this and switched to a rerun of NCIS. I think CBS needs to contact the producers of Rules of Engagement and order a few episodes. Compared to The Crazy Ones, that was a laugh riot.

Jeff Cohen said...

When you get to Episode 2 and it has the SAME PLOT as the pilot, that's not a good sign.

Arvor said...

I agree with the remarks that the show seem to be trying too hard, even showing outtakes as if saying "this is all the funny we have got" .

I think the show's title need to be changed because there isn't much "crazy" in it, imo the title makes people expect a comedy when the show is really something else .

It's always sunny in Philadelphia could pull off the title "the crazy one's" quite easily ... .

Anonymous said...

A big problem with this show is that the Zach character often upstages Robin Williams. Zach is not funny, he is annoying and is given way too much screen time. I personally think he should be taken off the show.

Secondly, you know there is a problem when Williams is funnier in the bloopers than on the show.