Friday, May 23, 2014

The Crazy Ones 1x01 "Pilot" (Crazy Is As Crazy Does)

Original Airdate: September 26, 2013

What separates a good television comedy pilot from a great television comedy pilot? I asked myself this when I began to sift through the crop of new comedies during the fall of 2013. What I discovered as I watched an array of new series was this: a good television comedy makes you laugh. A good television comedy has intriguing characters and witty dialogue. But a GREAT television comedy has something extra: heart. It has a soul that the show is grounded in – a kernel of truth that drives the stories and characters. When I watched The Crazy Ones, I knew that this was a special show. It was a pilot that made me laugh, made me engage with the characters, but also exemplified what it was, at its core. This was a show that was driven by the heart and soul of a father-daughter relationship. It’s admirable to create a series that makes you laugh, but when a comedy manages to tug at your heartstrings and ground itself in a foundation that is stronger than a punch line, you know you have something special.

The Crazy Ones may have been cancelled (long may it live through my blog and re-watches), but I decided to revive it this year for #SummerRewatch. Throughout the summer, I’ll re-watch the entire season and write reviews  like this one each week. Because, quite honestly, no show ever dies, even if it is cancelled. And The Crazy Ones still has so much life left to give. So today, let’s discuss the pilot episode, shall we? I’ll talk about why the pilot of this comedy series essentially encompassed everything that the show was about while it was on the air. And I’ll probably also talk a lot about how sad I am that it’s gone.

I wanted to watch The Crazy Ones for a few reasons. Those reasons, as you may have gathered, are named Robin Williams and Sarah Michelle Gellar. Apart, these two are extremely talented. So when CBS began running commercials for a new comedy series that starred them both, my interest was piqued. I didn’t have extremely high hopes for the show because I don’t watch anything regularly on CBS (sans for How I Met Your Mother when it was alive) and though I enjoy The Big Bang Theory from time to time, I inwardly cringed at the thought of yet another CBS multi-camera comedy with an evident laugh track. But The Crazy Ones was an oddball and underdog at the network from the beginning: it was a single-cam comedy, for starters. I don’t know the last time – if ever – I watched a single-cam comedy on CBS. And this was a series that compensated for the lack of a laugh track by providing witty, zany humor instead of fishing for easy laughs.

The series opens in the world of advertising. Lewis, Roberts & Roberts is an advertising agency in Chicago, primarily run by father-daughter duo Simon and Sydney. Simon Roberts is played by Robin Williams who brought his over-the-top, delightfully weird and wonderful humor (along with a plethora of voices) to the series. The Crazy Ones would have been an okay comedy, had I left the sentence there. But Williams’ humor was never the star of this show – he garnered plenty of laughs along the way but what I so strongly admired about the writing of this sitcom was that it let the ensemble cast shine. Even in the pilot, Roberts did not overshadow any other player. In fact, each cast member fluidly supports and plays off the others. This was always a cast of equals and I think that is why the ensemble worked so well.

Nevertheless, Simon and Sydney are the partners and decision-makers of the agency (her father more so than she) and the pilot divulges a problem: McDonald’s is about to drop them. This news sends Sydney into a near-tailspin. She’s a worrier and a perfectionist and the utter definition of “type A.” And yet, Sarah Michelle Gellar and the writers understood that Sydney was still endearing. She always felt the need to have a plan and to be the adult in the relationship with her father. I loved Sarah Michelle Gellar on this series because she played Sydney with such meticulousness and poise but also vulnerability. The scenes between her and Williams in the pilot (I’ll discuss a particular one later) really sold me on the idea that this show could be something great – that it wasn’t just a surface-level show; it had real, emotional, and meaningful substance. And it had complex but flawed characters, to boot.

When Sydney confronts her father about the news of McDonald’ s dropping them, Andrew (the art direction), Zach (the copywriter), and Lauren (an assistant) follow suit. Simon is fighting his giant robot toy in order to avoid having to meet with – and be fired by – the McDonald’s executives. Sydney has a plan, however: they will do the authenticity pitch that they have done millions of times because it is safe and stable and exactly what Sydney would do… if it wasn’t for her father. You see, Simon is a wild card. He doesn’t do “safe” because safe is boring. He doesn’t placate. No, he only has one setting: BIG. In whatever Simon Roberts does, he does it big and bold and without hesitation. He makes promises he cannot keep, but he sells his ideas that way. He leaps without a net. He takes big risks. And that utterly and completely terrifies Sydney because with big promises and risks comes the potential for big failure. Make no mistake: Simon and Sydney NEED each other and the reason is simple: they complete each other. She is his net; he is her risk.

So when Simon enters the meeting, much to the nervousness of the rest of the team, he dazzles the executives with an idea: they’ll reinvent a McDonald’s ad from years ago. What the audience doesn’t yet know but that we discover in this scene is that Simon Roberts is kind of a genius. Is he a bit insane? Yes, definitely. But he completely and utterly understands not just the realm of advertising but PEOPLE. He connects with the ideas and emotions that shape humanity’s existence and he extracts them. And then he sells products based on them. As Simon spins a story about taking Sydney to McDonald’s when she was a child and feeling like a king because he was able to provide something that made his little girl giddy, he notes that the McDonald’s advertisement should be centered around that nostalgia with a wholesome singer reprising the lyrics from the old advertisement in a new way.

Oh, and Simon makes one more big promise: he can have that voice by the following day. As it turns out, Simon is so good at what he does that he manages to book an afternoon meeting with Kelly Clarkson while the rest of the team fails to acquire any other famous singer. Here is why I will miss The Crazy Ones: I will utterly miss the ensemble. Even in the pilot, Amanda Setton, Hamish Linklater, and James Wolk had a fantastic rapport. Each actor portrayed a unique character with quirks and habits but I genuinely loved these characters from the moment that I met them. I will sorely miss Lauren’s delightfully weird and sometimes dark humor. I’ll miss Andrew’s goofy charm and Zach’s inflated ego. I’ll miss the Zandrew bromance most of all.

Simon may have overpromised, but at least he got Kelly Clarkson to agree to sing the McDonald’s jingle! … Until he realized it wasn’t going to be that simple. Kelly tells Zach and Simon that they want to rebrand McDonald’s and she wants to rebrand herself. She wants to ditch her wholesome image for something sexier. Taken aback, Simon agrees to let Kelly do pretty much whatever she want. He knows he’s backed into a corner but cannot do anything about it. So he leaps, once again, and crosses his fingers that a net will catch him. When Kelly shows up the following morning to record a provocative song, Sydney is rightfully horrified and terrified, convinced that they will lose McDonald’s as an account. Simon keeps leaping and this time comes up short when he decides that the best – see: only – course of action is to “pivot” Kelly. He and Zach attempt to steer Kelly away from singing about sex by convincing her that she really wants to be wholesome for the jingle. As expected, this does not sit well with Kelly and she leaves.

Later, Simon and Sydney have a heart-to-heart in his office in which the former contemplates his decision to leap and then wonders if he should just stop leaping altogether since it got them into the Kelly Clarkson mess. For as different as they are, Simon and Sydney always admire and respect each other. Simon will always love his daughter and believe in her ideas, even if he determinedly tries to prove that his own can work. And Sydney? Well, Sydney knows that her father cares, even in the moments he couldn’t express it earlier in her life. And it is when Simon says that he had hoped the advertisement would have worked out “for us” that Sydney realizes her father sees her not merely as his little girl, but as his partner – his EQUAL.

Sydney takes a leap, which for her is extremely rare, and confronts Kelly while the singer is at lunch with her family. The young advertising partner then explains to Kelly EXACTLY what the “you deserve a break” campaign means: it means conveying an idea, not selling a particular product. It means translating the emotions of family and love into a song. In order to prove herself to Kelly, Sydney removes herself further from her comfort zone by getting up on a table in the restaurant and singing the jingle at full voice. When the pop star returns to the advertising company and sings the McDonald’s jingle, much to the amazement of Simon and the rest of the team.

And then, with one simple line, The Crazy Ones won me over. Simon Roberts looked at his daughter and – genuinely – said: “You’re my net, you know. You always appear.” The pilot episode of this sitcom was chock full of everything that this series embodied. It had Robin Williams doing voices, but it also had him sincerely delivering some wonderful heartfelt lines. It had a neurotic Sydney, an amazing guest star, Andrew quipping, Zach being suave and delightful, and Lauren being absolutely zany and hilarious. When a show has this much promise, talent, heart, and humor from the beginning, you know that you’re doomed because you just cannot possibly help falling in love.

And now, some added bonuses:
  • I love that The Crazy Ones had outtakes and the ones of Kelly Clarkson, James Wolk, and Robin Williams during the song were HILARIOUS.
  • “It’s not a toy. It’ an emotional surrogate.”
  • “Wanna smell my hair?” Amanda Setton: queen of my heart and this show.
  • “… And Pink threatened me.”
  • “Guys, I know what you’re doing.” “Really? We don’t.”
Thank you all for reading! Come back next week when I re-watch and review “The Spectacular.” Until then, folks! :)


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