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Thursday, September 15, 2011

Free Agents - "Pilot"

     NBC's new sitcom Free Agents, which premiered last night, is about two friendly co-workers who sleep together. This might not be the best idea, considering Alex (Hank Azaria, The Simpsons, Huff), the gentleman in the scenario, is recently divorced, and the girl, Helen (Kathryn Hahn, Crossing Jordan), lost her fiancé a year ago. The episode begins with the aftermath of the sex, so how two people who are just friends end up in bed together is not shown. But Alex begins crying, and then gets clingy. Helen, when not trying to help Alex move on, downs copious amounts of wine and looks at the dozens of pictures of her fiancé that line her walls. Not exactly a match made in heaven.

     Yet, there's something about these two that is oddly endearing. They are both messed up people, but they seem to really take comfort in each other. While the romantic sparks may not be flying left and right, there is genuine affection present. Helen tolerates Alex's crying, and even helps him shop for a shirt for a date. Alex leaves a date with a very attractive, much younger girl when Helen calls him upset. The rest of the pieces could eventually fall into place if they just remain available for each other.

     If the series were just about Alex and Helen, it would be wonderful. Sadly, the rest of the ensemble cast mostly drags the series down, even those that are welcome on screen. For instance, it's thrilling to see Anthony Head (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Merlin) as Stephen, their somewhat creepy and sex-obsessed boss. Natasha Leggero (Ugly Americans, Last Comic Standing) is a hilarious woman, and gets the best one-liners in Free Agents. But both are mere distractions from the central story, which is not nearly as funny as they are. And that's ok, when sweet romance is the subject material.

    Then there's Mo Mandel (Chelsea Lately) who is a seemingly well rounded co-worker, but his entire plot in the pilot is getting Alex to double date with him. Walter (Al Madrigal, Gary Unmarried) is a married man who is skeazy because of his desire to go out with Mo and the girls. Maybe he really just wants some time away from his house, but he comes across as not someone you'd want to hang out with. Gregg (Joe Lo Truglio, Reno 911!) the security guard is just as bad as Walter, forcing Alex to sit through homemade videos of him swinging a sword. All three of these characters are worse than useless. I find myself groaning each time they are on screen.

     For Free Agents to succeed, it needs to figure out what it's strengths are, and trim the fat. There could be a really cool story here, told in an original way. But sitcoms on television feel the need to beef themselves up with "quirky, funny" supporting characters, and they are not always necessary. It's almost as if two completely different series are warring for screen time, and it makes the flow stumble.

     That being said, scenes where Alex improvises a sexual conversation to co-workers, or Head shows Alex photos of some of the named sexual positions, are really quite humorous. So some belly laughs are OK, as long as they included appropriately.

     Free Agents normally airs Wednesdays at 8:30 p.m. ET on NBC.

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