Most of the new comedies NBC ordered for next season look like the comedies that have aired on the network in recent years: They’re laugh track-free, single-camera shows in the vein of “30 Rock” or “Community.”
But not all of them. The fall show “Whitney” and the midseason series “Are You There Vodka? It’s Me Chelsea” care cut from the old-school sitcom mold — a live audience you can hear laughing, multiple cameras and setup-punchline rhythms reminiscent of shows from NBC’s comedy heyday in the ’80s and ’90s.
Formal differences aside, though, what matters with any comedy is whether it’s funny. Here are our first impressions of NBC’s comedy offerings for 2011-12.
The fall comedies:
“Free Agents” (watch clips)
The show is based on a British series about two co-workers (Hank Azaria and Kathryn Hahn), both of whom are coming off failed relationships, who sleep together, regret it to varying degrees and then try to figure out what their relationship should be going forward. We like Azaria quite a bit and are thrilled to see Hahn get the leading role she’s deserved for some time, but the trailer we saw was pretty light on actual laughs. Still, the dynamic between Azaria and Hahn — and the presence of “Buffy” veteran Anthony Head as their boss — looked strong enough to make us want a second look.
“Up All Night” (watch clips)
This show had us halfway in just by virtue of its core cast: Christina Applegate, Will Arnett and Maya Rudolph. We’re very close to all-in after seeing the trailer, with new parents Applegate and Arnett trying to balance their responsibilities with their desire to hold on to their former, less responsible lives. Rudolph is Applegate’s co-worker/friend, who’s not exactly on board the baby train. The chemistry is there and the writing feels sharp — so we’re there.
“Whitney” (watch clips)
Whitney (comedian Whitney Cummings) and her long-time boyfriend Alex (Chris D’Elia) are feeling the pressure to get married — mostly because everyone they know seems to be. In some ways this feels like a throwback to NBC’s relationship comedies of the 1990s, and what we saw was hit-and-miss. But we were kind of surprised, given Cummings’ often very adult stand-up comedy, at how soft a heart the show seems to have.
The midseason comedies:
“Are You There Vodka? It’s Me Chelsea” (watch clips)
Your response to this comedy is likely going to have a direct relationship to how much you like Chelsea Handler, on whose book the show is based (she also co-stars, though not as herself). Yours truly? Not a huge fan, so it didn’t do a whole lot for me. But writers Dottie Dartland Zicklin and Julie Ann Larson, both sitcom veterans, do seem to have a pretty good grasp on Handler’s comic voice, and Laura Prepon (who plays Chelsea) has comedy chops. So there’s that.
“Bent” (watch clips)
It’s an opposites-attract romantic comedy — she’s a busy lawyer and single mom! He’s a laid-back contractor/surfer who likes the ladies! — so it’s going to rise and fall on the chemistry between stars Amanda Peet and David Walton. And though we’ve enjoyed both actors’ work in the past (as well as that of Jeffrey Tambor, who plays Walton’s dad), the couple minutes of footage didn’t sell us on Peet and Walton as a couple. Also, what happens after he finishes remodeling her kitchen?
“BFF” (watch clips)
The couple with the best chemistry on all of NBC’s comedies may be Lennon Parham and Jessica St. Clair, who’ve been writing and improv partners for years before co-creating and starring in this pilot. Their characters are incredibly close, to the point of it being a little odd, but the oddness also creates some good, squirmy comedy, particularly when Lennon’s live-in boyfriend becomes the third wheel. (The boyfriend role will have to be recast; Adam Pally played him in the pilot but is continuing with ABC’s “Happy Endings.”)
What looks good to you among NBC’s new comedies?