Super Fun Night: TV Review
Wednesday at 9:30 p.m. on ABC, beginning Oct. 2
Rebel Wilson, Liza Lapira, Lauren Ash, Kevin Bishop, Kate Jenkinson
Rebel Wilson, John Riggl, Conan O'Brien, David Kissinger, Jeff Ross
Sadly, not much super here and not much fun either, with this ABC series starring Rebel Wilson.
How do you mess up a starring vehicle for Rebel Wilson? After acclaimed and hilarious stints in Pitch Perfect and Bridesmaids, the Australian actress seemed destined to be the perfect lead in a comedy built around her.
Unfortunately, the pilot -- which Wilson wrote -- met with a lot of groans from critics, and ABC decided to swap that out for the episode you'll see tonight, not written by Wilson, and ostensibly what would have been the second episode. Things might be a bit confusing once the actual pilot airs, but maybe by then people will have moved on.
Would they really give up on Wilson so quickly? Based on this "new" pilot, just maybe.
Part of the problem here is that Super Fun Night has the same odd conceit that's holding back The Michael J. Fox Show, creatively, over on NBC. And that is, both stars are basically asking the audience to laugh at them -- Fox for his battle with Parkinson's and Wilson for her weight and in this show, being a loser. That's a steep demand from people the audience actually wants to love and support. The shows are saying, here, laugh at the things about me that could, were we to discuss them a little deeper, be the kinds of things that might make you uncomfortable because it seems politically incorrect (or just flat-out wrong) to do so.
For Wilson, you can see an element to the show where the point is that she's fine making light of being large. Flipped on its head, the series could be (and perhaps is supposed to be) a proponent of supporting all body types and making everyone feel good about whatever they look like and whomever they may be (say, social skills-wise or beauty-wise). Which would be nice if it were more overt (or perhaps too much of a lecture if it were more overt?), but the fact is that Super Fun Night mostly ends up making Wilson the butt of every joke -- and her friends don't fare so well either.
The premise is that Kimmie Boubier (Wilson) -- and yes, that's meant to be a boob joke, one of an endless string of them here -- lives with her two best friends (and apparently has for 13 years?). There's Helen-Alice (Liza Lapira), the nerdy Asian with huge glasses, social shyness and fear of doing anything risky. And there's Marika (Lauren Ash), a tennis teacher who, in the original pilot, had the best lines because she gave off the slightest hint at being a lesbian and having a crush on Kimmie, while also being the more let's-go-for-it of the three. (This episode shows no signs of the lesbian hints, which is unfortunate.) The title comes from the fact that all three women stay in every weekend and on Friday they have their Super Fun Night, where they do something awesome that usually involves them not going out, having drinks and ordering pizza.
The original pilot presented Kimmie as a "junior attorney" at a big law firm getting a major promotion and meeting the boss' son, British lawyer Richard Royce (Kevin Bishop), who takes an immediate shine to Kimmie because he likes women with a little more heft and, in some ways, he's just as nerdy and clumsy as she is. But another attorney, the highly competitive shark in the water Kendall (Kate Jenkinson), is determined to either sleep with Richard or turn him into her boyfriend with her wily feminine charms because it will then get her on a faster track at the law firm. So there's your Mean Girls-style nemesis.
Wilson, who decided to use an American accent in this series, is more likable as a defiant loser than as a lovable loser, so to speak. In her defiance (the film roles), we see her strength and support her. In Super Fun Night, the audience is mostly left to feel sad about her (and her friends). It probably doesn't help that the show goes out of its way to present Wilson in the worst possible light. In the original pilot, the trio is repeatedly rejected trying to get into a club and Wilson ends up stripped down to her underwear and bra, with lights flashing on them. Here, the pilot has barely started when Wilson, sucking on an iced coffee, gets her skirt get caught in the elevator door, spinning her around and undressing her. There are also a lot of jokes about Spanx, particularly an extended scene at the end where she flails around trying to get them on.
Maybe this is what Wilson wants -- to be the butt of all the jokes (and to make a couple of butt jokes along the way). On paper, rooting for three "losers" to come out of their sheltered lives and conquer the world could be empowering. But mostly, they are victims of their situation, not triumphant over it. Ash's character may be the best of the three, though the writers would do well to bring back the original pilot's faint lesbian riffs because that was the most clever part. Lapira always does an excellent job playing these kinds of roles, though it might be nice for shows to stop playing down her looks or make her characters less timidly mousey.
As a package, Super Fun Night isn't much fun at all. The Kendall character is just too obviously mean and pretty and successful. The core trio would do well to have more success socially (and soon) or viewers who come to the show to laugh may find themselves at a pity party. And who wants that in a sitcom?