NBC has had a checkered past when it comes to adapting UK shows. While The Office has become one of their biggest hits, shows like Coupling crashed and burned. Still, it seems to be a well that the network is happy to continue to draw from, as this season they've done it twice (the adaptation of Prime Suspect premieres next week). Unlike a lot of these transplants, Free Agents allows itself some liberties, rather than copying the original pilot beat-for-beat the way the aforementioned sitcoms did. However, the result is still a bit of a mixed bag.
The show follows Alex (Hank Azaria) and Helen (Kathryn Hahn), co-workers at a corporate PR firm. Alex is recently divorced and devastated by the inability to spend time with his children and prone to random bouts of crying whenever he thinks about it. Helen's fiancé passed away suddenly nearly a year ago, but her house is still wallpapered with giant photos of him. Both have been left broken by the demise of these relationships and end up sleeping together in a moment of weakness. Afterwards, Alex begins following Helen around like a lost puppy, hoping to repeat the event, while she tries to shake him, convinced he's far too damaged for her.
Free Agents benefits from a stellar cast. Azaria and Hahn are joined by Anthony Head (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), reprising his role from the original show as their incredibly crass and inappropriate boss. The ensemble is further filled out by comic actors Mo Mandel (Love Bites), Al Madrigal (The Daily Show), Joe Lo Truglio (Reno 911!) and Natasha Leggero (Ugly Americans), some of whom fair better in the pilot than others. Their strength and the track record of creator John Enbom (Party Down), makes it easier to ignore the show's weaker elements. The sitcom's biggest failing is that it's a bit of a tonal mess. While, as a whole, it aspires toward a broader brand of comedy, Azaria's Alex feels like he's stepped off the set of a ten-tissue drama. While Alex still manages to garner some funny moments in the midst of his depression (a case of spontaneous tears in an elevator is particularly amusing), he seems like he's on a completely different wavelength than the rest of the show. Given some time, hopefully he'll integrate with the ensemble a little better. Still, despite its flaws, Free Agents manages to deliver some decent laughs and is worth a try.
Free Agents premiers Wednesday 9:30pm on NBC, it will air regularly Wednesdays 8:30pm.