Given the people involved in FOX’s new animated comedy “Sit Down, Shut Up,” it’s a show I very much want to like. The show’s first two episodes, however, make that kind of hard to do.
The show, about the barely qualified and otherwise preoccupied teachers at a Florida high school, is at times too silly and juvenile for its own good, and other times not big enough for an animated series. A handful of funny moments are outweighed by quite a few more that aren’t.
Unreasonably high expectations may be partly to blame for my disappointment. “Sit Down, Shut Up” counts “Arrested Development” creator Mitch Hurwitz and long-time “Simpsons” writer-producer Josh Weinstein among its executive producers, and its cast includes “Arrested” alums Jason Bateman, Henry Winkler and Will Arnett, “Saturday Night Live” veterans Kenan Thompson, Will Forte and Cheri Oteri, along with Kristen Chenoweth, Nick Kroll and Tom Kenny (aka the voice of SpongeBob). With those folks involved, you’d figure it almost has to be funny, right?
Sadly, no. The first two episodes are only sporadically amusing, and the show seems a little unsure of its tone. On one hand, it features characters named Larry Littlejunk (Bateman), Miracle Grohe (Chenoweth), Ennis Hofftard (Arnett) and Willard Deutschebog (Winkler), so we’re not exactly in high-brow territory here. There are lots of jokes about inappropriate sex, and a bit about Willard’s predilection for both pornography and food magazines gets hammered into the ground in Sunday’s (8:30 p.m. ET, between “The Simpsons” and “Family Guy”) premiere.
Some other jokes, though, are a little too subtle for a cartoon. In live-action comedy, actors like Bateman and Forte can undersell a line verbally but still make it hilarious through their expression and body language. That obviously doesn’t work in animation, so some lines that might otherwise get a laugh get lost. Thompson, who plays weary acting principal Sue Sezno, and Kenny, as janitor Muhannad Sabeeh “Happy” Fa-ach Nuabar (whose rantings are dubbed into PBS-like English narration in one of the show’s better running bits), along with Arnett, who plays Ennis at full Gob Bluth levels, come off best in the voice cast.
The second episode, in which the teachers try to earn some money for their perpetually underfunded school at the annual carnival, is a little better than the premiere, but the ratio of misses to hits is still a little high. An ongoing subplot about Larry’s inability to express his feelings for Miracle — he’s an empiricist, she’s a New Age-y magical thinker (who’s also the science teacher) — doesn’t have as much juice as it probably should.
It’s entirely possible that “Sit Down, Shut Up” will continue its growth curve for the rest of its brief run this spring, finding the right mix of broad and more cerebral humor. But at the moment, it stands as a bit of a disappointment.