I shudder at the thought of a person in 2009 watching the Parks and Recreation or Community pilot dismissing the shows as 30 Rock or Office wannabes and making some snarky joke about NBC once again trying to find their next Friends or Seinfeld and once again falling short. (Which we actually didn't do with those shows, but we did hate on the Vampire Diaries premiere, perish the thought!) So whenever it's time to watch new comedy pilots, I try to get into a really good mood and give everybody a fair chance to really make me laugh. That being said, Free Agents makes my job extremely difficult.
The series follows the romantic relationship/friendship of two public relations execs working at the lewdest office this writer has ever seen. Alex (Hank Azaria) is a sensitive -- Ha! Men being sensitive! Don't tell any of the ABC comedy pilot characters about this! -- divorced guy and Helen (Kathryn Hahn) is a slightly harder-edged lady finally moving on with her life after the death of her fiancé. After waking up from a one-night stand filled with both passion and extreme awkwardness, the two do their best to keep their fling under wraps while all of their sex-obsessed coworkers just want to talk extremely candidly about all things coital.
For outdated reasons that I've been standing behind for far too long, I root for Azaria to succeed beyond his Simpsons fame -- not so much at a Will Arnett level, but certainly to some extent. The man probably has more money than I could ever imagine, and yet there's a likability to him that makes me understand why Free Agents made it onto network TV. Alex is your typical 2011 male protagonist: He's down-on-his-luck, vaguely handsome and cares about his kids. Basically: This show being terrible is not his fault. Nor is it the error of Hahn, who bring a certain charm to every role she plays. I don't love seeing her in this miserable working woman trope of a role, but it seems like we're supposed to root for her by the end of the pilot, given that Alex shows some vulnerability. Also, she solemnly buys frozen pork medallions, wine and sherbet, which is when you know we're supposed to feel bad for a woman.
But as for the supporting cast and the writing, everything is sorely disappointing. As soon as I found myself get excited at the very sight of Joe Lo Truglio (a name I hope to actually remember one day), I realized that my stock in this show has sunk below the point of return. Buffy alum Anthony Stewart Head made for an uninspired wacky boss, and I feel bad picking on newcomer Al Madrigal, but the writers are clearly trying to make Walter this year's Gupta... and now that I have somehow said something nice about Outsourced, I think it's just about time to wrap this review. Cute "Fernando" joke, though.
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