IN TWEET: ROBIN WILLIAMS RETURNS TO SERIES TELEVISION IN “THE CRAZY ONES.” HE SHOULD HAVE STAYED AWAY A LITTLE LONGER.
I didn’t expect to be bowled over by the new CBS workplace “comedy” THE CRAZY ONES (Thursdays at 9PM E/P on CBS). The show certainly lived up to my lowered expectations but also left me scratching my head. It’s one of the most confounding of a weak slate of new single camera half hours.
Simon (Robin Williams) and Sydney Roberts (Sarah Michelle Gellar) run a father-daughter advertising agency in Chicago. He’s a once-great but now broken man (thanks to bad marriages and stints in rehab) who must be “handled” by his younger and more grounded progeny. This should be where the sparks of conflict come from, except nothing ever really catches fire here. It’s like someone took the pieces of a puzzle, lost a few and assembled the rest totally wrong.
I’ll get to Williams in a moment but, blame for the lackluster foundational elements of the show must be shouldered by writer/creator David E. Kelley. THE CRAZY ONES has all of his requisite touches: a workplace that would never exist in the real world, overly precious and wholly unremarkable writing, quirky characters who are quirky “just because” and female roles filtered through the mind of a man I am convinced doesn’t have a very high opinion of women. How else to explain the character of Lauren (Amanda Setton), an assistant at the agency who exists pretty much so Simon can smell her hair. I kid you not.
Kelly is the guy who convinced America that Ally McBeal was a great role model. I’m one of those he duped back in the day. Watching the show now, I feel nothing but shame for allowing myself to be suckered in. Unlike McBeal, Sydney is no train wreck. Unfortunately, she’s the female voice of reason here so Kelley positions her as the punching bag. When Sydney isn’t being steamrolled or undermined by the infantile antics of her father, she’s easily one-upped by subordinate Zach (James Wolk) and humiliated in public by Kelly Clarkson (random guest star of the week) for no real reason. It’s more than a little depressing to see Gellar reduced to this kind of crap. Buffy would put a stake in it without hesitation.
I’m not one who goes ga ga for Robin Williams. His shtick gets very old, very fast. In fact, had he never graced the small screen again, I would have been a happy camper. Still, for a show with “crazy” in the title, Williams has dialed it down quite a bit. Unfortunately, that reveals all of his weaknesses as a series lead. Why hire PATCH ADAMS if you don’t want his rubber nose and balloon animals? Here, he alternates from madcap to crashing bore with no rhyme or reason. I don’t believe for a minute that his character is an ad man, much less the head of an agency that could land business from the likes of McDonald's.
Luckily, someone had the inspiration to cast Wolk. He’s flown under the radar with consistently great work in a diverse array of TV gigs, including LONE STAR, HAPPY ENDINGS, MAD MEN and the criminally underrated mini-series POLITICAL ANIMALS. Wolk is the only thing that makes THE CRAZY ONES somewhat tolerable and he easily steals every scene he’s in. His musical duet with Clarkson (also faring nicely, by the way) is a highlight as is the scene where he pitches her with Simon. While Williams falls back on his “same old, same old” manic crutch, Wolk shows real comedic chops (try saying that ten times fast).
THE CRAZY ONES doesn’t have enough comedy to qualify as a sit-com or enough gravitas to make it an hour-long series. It’s an oddball “thing” that feels less like a complete show than it does a half-hearted concept pitch. Thanks to a lead-in from a record breaking season premiere of BIG BANG THEORY, a lot of people sampled THE CRAZY ONES. The show moves into its regular time slot this week and won’t have the benefit of a hand-delivered audience too lazy to turn the channel. I try my hardest to avoid openly rooting for the failure of a show but, THE CRAZY ONES does not deserve to be a hit.
RONTHINK GRADE: D+