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The Crazy Ones: TV Review

The Crazy Ones
CBS
Robin Williams and Michelle Gellar in "The Crazy Ones"

The Bottom Line

No-no, no-no.

Synopsis

One of the most successful and legendary advertising executives (Robin Williams) seems to be losing his touch. But his daughter (Sarah Michelle Gellar), the opposite of her manic ad-genius father, is here to help save the company -- and bond with her father. 

Airdate

Thursday, 9 p.m., CBS

Cast

Robin Williams, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Hamish Linklater, James Wolk, Amanda Setton

Created by

David E. Kelley

CBS sure has pulled in a lot of big-name actors and comics this year, but they can't seem to get the formula right to produce any laughs. Unless you really love Robin Williams, that's not changing with this sitcom.

Whether or not you watch CBS’s next sitcom (the network currently has four, none of them very funny), The Crazy Ones, comes down to whether or not you like Robin Williams and his shtick.

Period.

If you do, then by all means watch, though you might be thrown off by the odd tone and the desperation of it all.

If you’re not a fan (or you're merely an ex-fan), then avoid this at all costs -- because The Crazy Ones is Williams being Williams, which used to be a thing a while ago but now seems more like a thing you’ve seen too many times.

(It’s said that comedians have a hard time giving up the need to please people, but so many of them end up becoming pretty good dramatic actors and often do their best work there. It certainly seems that Williams going against type is far more successful and palatable, but that’s probably because I’m no longer in the crowd that’s enamored with him being constantly wacky.)

The Crazy Ones is from David E. Kelley, and when those names were put together, you couldn’t help but think it was going to be an explosion of quirkiness laced with coyness, and everyone would die without laughing.

But for some reason, Kelley seems more reserved making this pilot (though it’s a good bet he’ll blow the whole thing wide open soon enough). Maybe Kelley is just getting a feel for making a half-hour sitcom instead of an hour-long dramedy, which he has excelled at.

Confined to 30 minutes (well, fine, 22), Kelley seems unable to set the tone. The Crazy Ones is part manic and part maudlin, with neither emotion being effective. Williams is Simon, an advertising genius who heads his own firm but seems to have lost his way (though the advertising offices would suggest otherwise). Daughter Sydney (Sarah Michelle Gellar) is basically trying to save the firm that she’s going to take over, but that involves coddling dad and getting the best results out of his frantically pinging brain. Gellar seems exasperated half the time and splits daddy’s-girl equally with go-getter. I’m not sure any of that suits her. Gellar has yet to find a role that connects her talents so electrically and effectively as Buffy the Vampire Slayer did. And mopping up after or pleading with Williams probably isn’t going to change that.

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These aren’t daddy issues she’s working out. Daddy is the issue. Nobody gets to lead much when Williams is being Williams, which is him often doing impressions or spouting oddly about whatever crosses his mind. You are so familiar with that, it needs no further explanation.

But Simon is morose, too. He’s unhappy, seems like he’s acknowledging the fact that he’s losing it (and the rest of the industry knows it). If Kelley wanted to do something touchingly existential, with a downcast Williams spiraling from lofty heights, that might have been an hour-long dramedy worth investing in. The Crazy Ones, however, is part uncomfortable self-examination and then free-wheeling riffing. Ultimately the idea is that, yes, Simon’s still got it. His ideas may misfire and his wild behavior may cause headaches, but his genius is likely to save the day for the firm in the 11th hour.

He does that in the pilot with Kelly Clarkson. It seems forced and hinges on a new level of product endorsement -- the name of the company Clarkson is singing the jingle for will go unnamed. 

Unfortunately, along the way there’s not much to like or laugh about. Once again, a CBS comedy has taken a stellar cast -- also including Hamish Linklater, James Wolk and Amanda Setton -- and manages to find the least interesting way to use them. Maybe future episodes will make everybody gel, since CBS has the Midas touch even when it’s touching a load of crap.

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But what’s odd about The Crazy Ones is that it’s not overtly ridiculous and/or broad as most of its fellow CBS comedies. You can see that the idea on paper was mostly a good one (which certainly calls for some patience, granted). But this single-camera comedy seems very un-CBS, which usually opts for obnoxious laugh tracks or, worse, a “live studio audience” that will laugh at virtually anything once you tell them to.

The question then is, would The Crazy Ones work better at a different network? Who knows? But it definitely would work better if it was funny and didn’t try so hard (which is, as you know, a Williams hallmark -- riff ceaselessly and maniacally until there’s laughter, even if you work up a sweat).

Even the ads for this show haven’t been funny. What agency did CBS use? Oh, right.

E-mail: Tim.Goodman@THR.com
Twitter: @BastardMachine