Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Pilot Review: Crowded

Crowded (Sundays at 9:30 on NBC, beginning March 20)

I'm not surprised Crowded found its way to NBC's schedule. It has all the charm and ease of a comfortable 1990s sitcom, with the simplicity common to them as well. Suzanne Martin has created a show much like her TV Land hit Hot in Cleveland that throws back to a time when comedy was mined easier, when laugh tracks were louder, and when TV didn't always tackle the difficult issues of the time. Sure, Crowded touches upon the current financial status of the country, with several educated twenty-somethings forced to move in with mom and dad once again due to lack of job opportunities, but it actually finds its comedy in situations like grown children walking in on their parents having sex, not in the complications of navigating adulthood in an unstable economy or something similar. It's hard to say if that would have made a better show than what Crowded is, but it probably wouldn't have been hard to be better than what Martin and Co. gave us.

What we have here is not really a sitcom that's a result of the current American landscape, but rather a sitcom masquerading as such. It's actually just another comedy about the differences between generations in a family. So it's pretty much like any other comedy out there. Mike (Patrick Warburton) and Martina (Emmy winner Carrie Preston) have grown accustomed to living their lives without children since sending their youngest off to college four years. They've rediscovered their love for each other and recommitted to their relationship. With Mike's parents now on the verge of moving to Florida, they'll truly get to be alone and focus on themselves for the first time in almost thirty years... until their daughters decide to move back home. Aspiring actress Stella (Mia Serafino) has broken up with her loser boyfriend and needs a place to stay while waiting for her YouTube videos to gain traction. Astrophysicist Shea (iCarly herself, Miranda Cosgrove) has had the funding for her post-grad research cut off. With the nest full again, Mike's father (Stacy Keach) and stepmother (Carlease Burke) decide the family needs them again, so they're staying put as well. All that's missing from the premise is an Urkel-style shoulder shrug aimed at the camera and a saxophone riff over a studio audience's forced laughter.

The comedy in Crowded will likely play well to an older audience, because the first episodes are primarily about different approaches to parenting and spicing up your sex life in your fifties. So despite the presence of Cosgrove, a once-major presence in the age group that's now at the front of the coveted 18-49 demographic, there's no humor here for the youthful sect. There's some mumbo jumbo about dating apps and YouTube and texting, but it's all clearly written by someone much older than the characters speaking such dialogue. Stella, for example, makes a reference to her sister dressing like Daria... who was a briefly iconic MTV character over fifteen years ago. It's highly unlikely a 22-year old would be using the character as a reference, considering Daria ended when she would have been in preschool. But it would probably stick out in a forty-somethings mind as a cultural representation of adolescence. The comedy between Mike and his father Bob is similarly dated, when nearly every joke is preceded by a literal or implied "Back in my day..." or "Kids today..."

It's extremely frustrating, because this cast is able to do so much more. Warburton makes his role so much funnier than it actually is with just his unique, dry, deep-voiced delivery. He's fun and laidback, and he makes even his unfunny lines sound witty. Preston, on the other hand, tries too hard to be funny and ends up a little manic. She's sincere, though. Keach is his usual brash self. Carlease Burke (Switched at Birth) is the biggest weak point in the cast; she totally embodies the 90s style (brought to life by the King of 90s sitcom direction, James Burrows) of telegraphing the punchline, and doing it as loud as possible without screaming. Serafino and Cosgrove both have weakly defined characters; right now, they're simply just "the free one" and "the brainy one," respectively. The first two episodes focus almost entirely on the two older couples, with the daughters thrown by the wayside and only used to accent dated jokes (like calling when Mike and Martina are about to have sex, or introducing their parents to the wonders of internet dating).

Crowded probably would have fit nicely paired with Hot in Cleveland a few years back. It's got a breezy, familiar quality similar to that show, a sweetness that's likeable more than it's funny. For all its faults, Crowded is quite likeable, thanks largely to Warburton in the lead role and Preston trying her damnedest to bring the script to life. But if you're looking for something current, progressive, or laugh out loud humorous, you'll have to look elsewhere. Crowded is strictly appealing to those who don't want to think too much, and who want their sitcoms only slightly warmed over, like leftovers.

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