In CBS's The Crazy Ones, actors spend a lot more time laughing than the audience.
By Jessica Johnson|
Memo to sitcom creators: Centering your comedy around a well-established comic personality like Robin Williams does not mean that you don't have to do any work to make your show successful. From creator David E. Kelley, The Crazy Ones spends too much time letting its star riff and too little time investing in its cast of characters.
Set in a Chicago advertising agency run by once great ad man Simon Roberts (Williams), The Crazy Ones begins by sending its ensemble into a frenzy when they get wind that their biggest client, McDonald's, will soon be letting them go. Simon's daughter and partner in the agency, Sydney (Sarah Michelle Gellar), wants to stick to their planned advertising pitch. Simon, however, goes out on a limb in the kind of improvisational move we're meant to believe is his specialty. His new idea involves them revitalizing the classic "You Deserve a Break Today" jingle with a fresh celebrity voice, which offers a convenient opportunity for a hefty cameo by Kelly Clarkson.
With so much focus on the McDonald's/Clarkson plot, very little time is actually spent on developing the show's core cast of characters. There's a sense that Simon has had a bit of a fall from grace recently, but that isn't really explored or elaborated on. Instead, we get scenes of Williams dipping into his repertoire of outlandish (and sometimes offensive) accents and obvious ad-libbing. The relationship between Simon and Sydney seems like it's supposed to be very important, but most of their time together involves Gellar looking exasperated by her Williams' antics. Sydney is a woefully one note character, serving mostly as the show's buzz-kill, and this isn't helped by the fact that guest star Clarkson gets about the same amount of screen-time. Or that Gellar's attempts at comedy are painfully awkward.
Then, of course, there's the fact that this entire episode comes off as one big McDonald's commercial. This is especially true when Simon, while trying to hang on to his client, tells them a story about the joy of being able to buy his daughter a Happy Meal when he was younger and poorer. This is a far cry from Don Draper's confession about growing up in a whore house and appreciating the simplicity of a Hershey bar. It feels manipulative and, because we've only barely seen the father and daughter together, utterly weightless. The creators have said that they didn't receive any money from the fast food chain for this episode. Lucky them. They're getting a sloppy love note for free.
If there's one thing The Crazy Ones has going for it, everyone (with the exception of Gellar) looks like they're having a lot of fun. An extended version of Williams and James Wolk improvising a sexy McDonald's jingle to lure Clarkson, resulting in the pop star busting out laughing in the middle of a take, has been playing in movie theaters all summer. It's nice to know the cast is enjoying themselves. It would be better if that sense of amusement extended more to the audience.