Hit or Sh**: NBC’s CROWDED
In this Crossfader series, our intricate and complex rating system will tell you definitively whether new television pilots are worth your valuable time. We call it: HIT OR SH**.
Do you ever just stop to think about how weird it is that network television is still a thing, assuming people will want to regularly schedule what little free time they have to stay stationary and watch something on the television instead of a computer screen? Not to make too many assumptions, but the demographic still positing this as an economically viable medium simply cannot include many members of the young, instant access zeitgeist. As such, it’s like being a stranger in a strange land to witness just how free from the shackles of gritty realism and mature themes network television is. A classicist sitcom in every word, CROWDED deals in exaggerated reductive stereotypes, on-the-nose deliverance of plot and emotional intent, and utilizes an honest-to-goodness laugh track. And you know what? On the rare occasion, it’s funny.
Shocking, I know
The general concept of CROWDED is topical and at least offers up the potential for steadily increasing comedic tension. Mike (Patrick Warburton) and Martina (Carrie Preston) have recently deposited their daughters Shea (Miranda Cosgrove) and Stella (Mia Serafino) off at college, leaving them as empty-nesters looking forward to the impending move to Florida on the behalf of Mike’s parents, Bob (Stacy Keach) and Alice (Carlease Burke). Of course, this proves too good to be true, and after both Shea and Stella move back in, Bob and Alice don’t want to leave, moving into the house in order to “help” Mike and Martina out. The beginning of the pilot is encouraging, as Warburton is lucky enough to get the best dialogue writing, all delivered successfully in that sonorous baritone we know and love. My interests were further piqued by the first scene between Mike and Bob, in which Bob easily establishes himself as the character on the show to watch and relishes the implicit tension between him and Mike. Could this be the perfect little slice of overblown escapism I need?
Not as much as I need to look like Patrick Warburton in this picture at all times
Unfortunately not, as the longer CROWDED goes, the more the cracks become evident in the seams, which is an alarming concern for a pilot barely breaking 22 minutes. The fact of the matter is that the show can’t help but feel dated (not helped by that infernal laugh track). Hopelessly archetypical, it seems like the creators and writers didn’t even try in terms of character, with a “loose,” rebellious teen; a virginal nerd; a frazzled, bubbly wife (take off those damn heels Martina!!!); a stout, randy husband; a shrieky, disapproving grandmother; and a crotchety old man. This leads to jokes involving ear-grating usage of the word “basic” from Stella, (I would sacrifice a newborn baby to have this word struck from every script in Hollywood at this exact moment), the requisite hyper-accentuated references to math and science from Shea, lots of wacky mishaps involving Mike and Martina trying to have sex while everyone is in the house, and grumbling streams of old people rhetoric and critiques. Add Stella’s stoner boyfriend Justin to the mix, and you’ll be able to fill-in-the-joke-blanks yourself. Seemingly carved straight from whatever standard comedy template was used in the late 90s and early 2000s, you’ll cringe as Mike and Martina smoke Stella’s hidden pot stash and get really fucking high, you’ll wince as Alice offers her tired commentary on gluten dieting (hahahahahahahhahaha!!!), and you’ll wring your hair as Mike and Martina keep walking around making repetitive statements about how they were too easy on Shea and Stella as kids and need to get them out of the house.
Remember, unless you say it three times, people won’t pick up on it
Now, if you remember from the introduction, I said this show is occasionally really funny, and I wasn’t pulling a fast one on you. Mike and Bob seem infinitely more curated and attended to than any of the female characters and regularly run away with any scene they’re heavily featured in (the closing scene between the two of them is one of the highlights). In addition, there’s one great scene that hints at what could have been a much more humorous show. Dumping all six characters in a room and having Bob and Alice open an unappreciated gift of airline miles (so that they can continue with their plan to go to Florida) leads to several acerbic barbs and joyful passive aggression on the behalf of every character present as the situation slowly devolves into Mike and Martina expressing their desire for Stella and Shea to move out. The scene is topped off by Justin paying a surprise visit and proposing to Stella out of nowhere, implying that he too may move in. Even if Bob’s smug grin wasn’t enjoyable enough, this is the only example of smart employment of comedic tension that the show’s writing demonstrates. Oh, and the show almost manages to not make any reference whatsoever to the fact that Alice is black. Almost.
Despite getting a handful of well-earned chuckles (mostly from the repartee between Mike and Bob), CROWDED feels too familiar and lazily hokey for me to respond to. In addition, the female characters are all underwritten and subscribe to age-old tropes that seem strident in the heightened state of political correctness we all exist in. I suppose — somewhat in the show’s defense — that perhaps its intended audience is exactly those who can relate to Mike and Martina the most: vaguely melancholic middle-aged parents who are done challenging themselves and want to watch things that make them comfortable until they die. I didn’t hate it, and it’s certainly better than some of Netflix’s recent misfires (that’s right, I’m gunnin’ for ya), but you’ve heard it once, and you’ll hear it again: There’s too much damn television, and we have to take a page out of Donald Trump’s book and refuse to fraternize with losers.
CROWDED airs on Sundays on NBC