There's something hiding underneath the surface of Super Fun Night, the new show from breakout star Rebel Wilson (Pitch Perfect, Bridesmaids). There's a good idea at its core, one that hits a lot of untapped nerves in the current television landscape, but too many factors are holding it back right now. Granted, the first episode of a series isn't always the best barometer for how a show will turn out, so I'm hoping Super Fun Night will begin to live up to its name soon.
Here's what I do like about this ABC show: it plays up Wilson's strengths as a comedic actress (though why they changed her Australian accent to a shaky American one is beyond me). As Kimmie Boubier, a 30-something lawyer with a tight-knit set of gal pals Helen-Alice and Marika and a recent promotion at work, Wilson knows how to play outrageous and oddly relatable all at once. Who hasn't had some seriously embarrassing wardrobe malfunctions (Wilson is a great physical comedian and knocks a sequence in which her skirt gets caught in an elevator out of the park) or unrequited work crushes (here, it's her dorky and sweet British colleague Richard, played by Kevin Bishop)?
The real problem here is her friends that are holding her back, in every sense of the word. I don't fault the actresses that play them, Liza Lapira (as Helen-Alice, the quiet, nerdy one) and Lauren Ash (as Marika, the off-the-wall, brash one), for being Super Fun Night's biggest hurdle. While Wilson's Kimmie reminds us of someone we know (or ourselves), the meek Helen-Alice and the sexually ambiguous Marika seem like caricatures. I also couldn't imagine watching any subplots that revolve around them, especially without Wilson's Kimmie around.
In the premiere episode (technically the second episode, since the pilot was pulled off the schedule by ABC late in the game), titled "Anything for Love," we meet Kimmie giving a video diary interview, which seemed like nothing more than a way the writers could get away without having a voiceover or a confessional. Kimmie is sweet, if not a bit of a bull in a china shop. In flashbacks we see her in the aforementioned elevator scenario, as well as knocking down lighting fixtures, and passing out in public due to nerves.
So are we supposed to be laughing with Kimmie -- with her all-too-familiar struggles with Spanx -- or are we supposed to be laughing at her when she orders four "sympathy pizzas" for herself when her stunning, thin coworker outshines her at an open mic night at a piano bar? A piano bar that Helen-Alice had chosen as this week's "super fun night"? (Yes, that's where the title comes from: the trio of gal pals pick a weekly Friday night on the town by putting suggestions into a bedazzaled "Super Fun Night" tin.)
Then again, the real test of this show will be how they deal with Kimmie and Richard's flirtatious relationship. Richard, like Kimmie, is something of a socially awkward dork and seems like a genuinely nice person. Richard doesn't seem to be flustered by Kimmie's figure (though one of her crass coworkers feels the need to chime in with, "You get a big one on the leash, you wanna keep it on the DL" -- I suppose for no other reason than to make viewers feel bad) but Kimmie's work rival, the unfathomably evil Kendell (Kate Jenkinson) refuses to lose Richard's attention to her. (Richard, being the boss' son, is a hot commodity). She makes cruel remarks about Kimmie's weight and seems hell-bent on humiliating her. You know, because traditionally beautiful women and less traditionally attractive women can't be friends, only mortal enemies.
I'm invested in finding out what happens with Kimmie at work and with her work crush, so I'm willing to set aside the squirm-worthy jokes, the stolen gags (the karaoke sing-off was already done in Bridesmaids, and they did it better), and overtly sitcom feel. I think if they level out Helen-Alice and Marika (they're not bad people, after all, just a little annoying out of the gate), I'll want to watch their exploits. A piano bar isn't the most thrilling setting (even if it was just used to help Kimmie get over her stage fright), so I'm excited to see where they'll go next. I also refuse to believe that a show that boasts Wilson, as well as having Conan O'Brien and Jeff Ross as producers won't be the comedy tour-de-force it's so clearly meant to be.
It's been said time and time again that there aren't enough women who look like Wilson on television, and it's true. That's why Super Fun Night has an interesting challenge ahead of it: do they laugh in the face of these relatable insecurities (in once scene, Kimmie says she's going to send Richard a picture "from five years ago when I was at my physical peak") or be stingingly truthful about how women like Kimmie can be treated? As she resigns to her friends at one point, "We're always the losers; that's just the way the world is." Then again, where's the super fun in that?
Wilson is such a fearless performer, so whether she's belting out Meatloaf's "I Would Do Anything For Love, But I Won't Do That" (the "that," she finally clarified, is "butt stuff") or griping about "boob sweat," she'll say and do what many others wouldn't dare, and that in and of itself makes this worth watching. It's not a perfect show, nor a particularly laugh-out-loud hilarious one yet. either, but in the words of Richard: "Don't count Kimmie out just yet."
Super Fun Night premieres on ABC on Wednesday, October 2 at 9:30 PM ET.
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