Saturday, October 29, 2016

Despite Its Efforts, The Great Indoors' Pilot Fails To Be Funny

Many people know this, but I absolutely adore Joel McHale. I was a fan of The Soup for years, and a huge (like, really huge) fan of Commuity for many more after that. And after years of receiving random Twitter DMs from him and begging him to return to Orlando to do a stand-up show, he finally came to Orlando last April. Close to the show date, I got a Twitter message from his personal assistant saying that Joel wanted to offer me backstage passes and tickets to the show. (I know, right?) So I got the chance to meet and talk with Joel, my best friend in tow. It was incredible and such a great experience. Joel McHale is — on the surface — the snarkiest, most self-deprecating person you'll ever meet. But not much furhter below that, he's a really kind person. Like, a very appreciative, very nice human being who went out of his way to make my experience memorable and enjoyable.

So when Community was cancelled, I knew Joel would eventually go on to do bigger and better things. I had hoped that he would return to television someday as the lead in another comedy.

I just wish it hadn't been The Great Indoors.

As a millennial, I know that my generation has been reduced to a buzzword lately. And as someone who is a millennial in marketing, I know that to be even more true. We're easy to make fun of (watch John Crist's hilarious "Sponsor a Millennial" spoof), which is why so many people make fun of our generation unnecessarily. I've heard all of the punchlines, too — we're dependent on our phones and digital media; we're narcissistic; we're entitled; we're naive and know nothing about anything that happened before we were born, etc. etc. So when I saw the preview for The Great Indoors, my immediate response was cringing. The jokes weren't funny; they were trite and stale — retreaded comments that I've heard a million times over.

I know that my generation has issues and I know that sometimes we're just plain absurd. But what I think is immensely problematic about the pilot of The Great Indoors is that it serves only to point out what is wrong with this generation, and it does it so extensively that it becomes grating. The characters are caricatures, and if I already dislike all of them off the bat because of that, there's a slim chance I'll stick around longer than the pilot to see what happens to them. To top it all off, Joel McHale's character, Jack, is presented as this aloof, older, out-of-touch character (who would be more engaging if it was discussed that Jack has been living abroad and that's why he's so out-of-touch, but the show doesn't really draw those lines well at all) who clashes immediately with the millennials. I did enjoy the dynamic between Jack and his friend/bartender Eddie. It provided a few nice moments where you can tell that Eddie has assimilated to the culture and has learned how to interact with a younger generation, where Jack is resistant to change, in general, and to changing his ways for other people.

Joel McHale can carry a lot. He's a talented actor who does the best with what he's given here, but let's be clear: he's not given a lot of good material to work with. There's the incredibly snarky dialogue (which he sells), and then there's the incredibly-forced comedy (which he struggles with, because it's forced — like the moment that Jack assumes Mason is gay). The problem with multi-camera comedies is that when a joke falls flat and is accompanied by a laugh track, it's even more evident that the joke is bad.

While I think that the most compelling relationship is the one between Roland (Stephen Fry) and Jack, the show also asked us to care about a relationship that Jack once had with Roland's daughter, Brooke. We obviously know that the show is setting these two up to be a "will-they-won't-they" pairing, but I didn't really sense any sort of chemistry there. Joel McHale had more chemistry with the baby bear, in my opinion. (And does the character remind anyone else of a British attempt at Annie Edison? Maybe that's just the #pathological shipper in me...)

The Great Indoors tries really hard to make millennials the butt of every joke, and it fails because it's just trying too darn hard to be funny. The one moment where I chuckled involved a gag where an elevator closes as Jack says: "blah blah blah." It's a subtle moment, but one that was funny because it wasn't FORCED. I find that the problem I have with mostly every CBS comedy is that they're trying too hard to be funny that they're actually losing humor — and an audience — in the process. If this show wants to succeed and actually get millennials to watch it, maybe it should point out more nuanced humor within the generation rather than beating the same dead horses that everyone else has.

As of now, though, The Great Indoors isn't saying anything new about millennials or generational dynamics — it's just expecting us to laugh when we've been hearing the same tired jokes for years and years.

Pilot Grade: D


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