Empty10:30-11 p.m., Wednesday, March 14
The fact that "Halfway Home" is entirely improvised (in the same way as its Comedy Central sister "Reno 911!") helps explain to some degree the show's frequent awkwardness of tone and character interaction. But it doesn't necessarily excuse it. "Reno" pulls off its conceit with far more effective deadpan wit and panache. By contrast, this new series -- which follows "South Park" on Wednesday nights for the next 10 weeks -- tries too hard to be goofy.
It has moments that are semi-inspired, just not nearly enough of them in the first two installments. The action revolves around a handful of misfits who log time in Crenshaw House, a halfway house for particularly shifty and paranoid parolees of the Los Angeles prison system. There's Eulogio (Oscar Nunez of "The Office" fame), the male prostitute; Sebastian (Jordan Black), the rich kid with delusions of terrorist activity; Alan (Regan Burns), the house narc with a pyromaniac bent; Carly (Jessica Makinson), the pathological drug trafficker; and Serenity (Octavia Spencer), the in-your-face armed robbery convict.
Overseeing this motley crew is Kenny (Kevin Ruf), who as the house supervisor struggles to convey the illusion of control and rehabilitation -- which is tough when he likes to sneak a little weed himself.
What's striking about the comedy from the outset is the broad style. It's as if the actors are as needy of attention as the screw-ups they're portraying. That removes any semblance of natural behavior. The cast does demonstrate a measure of chemistry, however, and Burns in particular has a superb sense of timing. But it would be surprising if "Halfway Home" were to do for the criminal community what "Reno" has for law enforcement, overly consumed with its sense of the outrageous as it is at the outset.