Friday, September 16, 2011

Pilot Review - "Free Agents" (U.S.)

Spoilers for the "Free Agents" series premiere after the jump:

Fairly early on in the pilot episode of "Free Agents", there's a scene where Alex's (Hank Azaria) co-workers pressure him to divulge details of an apparent sexual encounter he had last night. Their boss comes in and, rather than stopping the conversation, simply asks that Alex get to the "good parts". It's a fairly uncomfortable scene, which wouldn't be a bad thing. But it's also not funny. At all. And for a comedy show, that's generally a very bad thing. Unfortunately, pretty much all of "Free Agents" is like that: not funny.

The series revolves around Alex and Helen, a pair of co-workers at a PR firm who have a one-night stand. For its part, the PR firm is barely even mentioned. That scene I mentioned above is typical of the show's depiction of this workplace. People don't seem to do any actual work, but rather spend their time talking about going to parties and asking poor Alex to be a "wingman". And the jokes (particularly those made by Anthony Stewart Head's Stephen) generally wind up caught in the void between the safety of broadcast network humor and the raunchiness of premium cable.

The same can be said for other aspects of the show. Alex is coming off an apparently bad divorce, and Kathryn Hahn's Helen still hasn't gotten over the death of her fiancee. This is dark material for a sitcom, but it could work if the show was willing to be dark. For the most part, it's not. Alex is constantly crying, but in general he and Helen tend to view their depression with a kind of resignation that sometimes borders on amusement. Tell me, do people this miserable generally fire off snappy one-liners every few seconds? I didn't think so.

The bottom line is that this is not a very good show. And yet... there are elements that could make a good show in place here. And I don't just say that because I'm an enormous fan of co-creator John Enbom's previous series "Party Down". The show's pace is solid, and I have to believe (with the talent involved) that the writing won't be this terrible every week. More importantly, the relationship between Alex and Helen has the potential to deliver dark laughs as well as some genuinely sweet romance, assuming "Free Agents" figures out how to use it.

I'd argue it already has, actually: in the final scene of the pilot. Alex comes over after getting a phone call from Helen. Both of them confess just how messed up they really are right now. The unsaid implication is obvious: since they're so messed up, maybe they actually are right for each other. And of course, they wind up hooking up again. This entire sequence felt genuine to me in a way nothing else in the episode did. And it's enough to keep me interested. For now.

Will I Keep Watching?: That last sentence in the review should answer your question. I'm hopeful for a steady improvement over the next few episodes that will prove my faith in this series is not a mistake. I will not, however, be reviewing it again until (and unless) things improve dramatically, which may or may not happen. I'll probably post some thoughts on Twitter each week, though.  

Grade: C-


  1. While the show wasn't that great in terms of being funny, I thought Azaria and Hahn had great chemistry together that made up for most of the show (and it was sweet most of the time).

  2. I wouldn't say it made up for most of the lackluster attempts at humor, but that's pretty much my entire point. It's why I'm cautiously optimistic about the show' future. We'll see...