'The Cool Kids': TV Review

Great cast, workable pilot.
9/28/2018

An all-star cast of comic pros makes Fox's stab at very grown-up comedy kind of work, if you're into that sort of thing.

As an actor, writer and executive producer on one of the greatest comedies ever made for television — It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia, now in its eye-popping 13th season — Charlie Day had no real need to dabble in an old-school multicamera comedy for a broadcast network, unless he wanted to see what that felt like, potentially make an insane amount of money if it worked or maybe do a solid for Fox (since FX is home to Sunny and it's nice to help the family).

And so he and Paul Fruchbom (Ryan Hansen Solves Crimes on Television) created The Cool Kids for Fox, a show that tries to wring laughs out of getting old and has an all-star cast to help out.

As an experiment in form, The Cool Kids works well enough because David Alan Grier (The Carmichael Show, In Living Color), Martin Mull (Veep, Roseanne, etc.), Vicki Lawrence (Mama's Family, The Carol Burnett Show) and Leslie Jordan (Will & Grace, American Horror Story) have impeccable timing and could probably do this in their sleep and still nail it.

In fact, watching this foursome do their bits answers the main question of "Why would Day want to do this show?" and replaces it with the more relative, "Is this the kind of show you want to watch?"

That might be harder to answer, unless you still have an open mind about multicam comedies with laugh tracks in 2018 (and, to be fair, many people still do).

The Cool Kids takes place at a retirement home. Hank (Grier), Charlie (Mull) and Sid (Jordan) have lost their fourth elder squad member and friend and are wondering how to replace him: Who among the retirement community will get his coveted chair and a chance to sit with, yeah, the cool kids? Before they have a plan in place, Margaret (Lawrence) sits down and doesn't budge, tossing shade at all of them but in particular Hank, their de facto leader and the one least willing to let a woman, especially a threatening one, join the group.

Before Margaret arrives, the trio try to figure out a way to honor their lost friend, and it won't be with some staid retirement home send-off (which is already negligible and certainly not personal). "We need to throw something like a Burning Man," Hank says. "You want to burn a man?" asks Sid — and bless Jordan's uncanny ability to make lines like that work, time and again. "No," says Charlie, "it's a sex festival in the desert — I go every year."

Never mind that this joke undermines another from Charlie about being at the retirement home voluntarily — broadcast comedies are, for the most part, meant to make you laugh, not think. And since this is about elderly people, you can expect — and you will get, even in the pilot, which is the only episode Fox released, as is custom — numerous jokes about the maladies of aging.

Once Margaret establishes that she's not afraid of any of them, nor does she think they are, in fact, the cool kids, Hank wants to oust her. So the idea is that Sid, who is gay, will seduce her, because it's a network TV show. Anyway, that clearly fails as Margaret calls Sid's bluff about what he wants to do to her. ("If she goes anywhere near his penis, his heart could explode.")

Eventually, of course, Charlie and Sid try to talk Hank into accepting Margaret. She busts them out of the retirement home for a wild night, and even comes through for them when they try to throw a party (and fail) to honor their lost friend — who, Sid recalls, wasn't that great anyway.

"He used to replace my beta blockers with boner pills."

"It was a joke," Hank says.

"Not to my poor little pee-pee," Sid retorts.

Yeah, that sort of thing. Plus a laugh track.

Look, not all the jokes are penis-centric. Not all of them are predictable. But they are kind of soft and more fun-loving than caustic. They won't make you double over laughing (or maybe they will — your mileage may vary when it comes to comedy). But what does work here is the effortless ease with which Mull, Grier, Lawrence and Jordan never miss a beat. Setup, punch line, retort, setup, punch line, sight gags, physical humor — they've got this down. These are comic vets, in some cases legends, and they will take The Cool Kids to heights that are probably higher than the material or even the format merits. 

Cast: David Alan Grier, Martin Mull, Vicki Lawrence, Leslie Jordan
Created and written by: Charlie Day, Paul Fruchbom
Premieres: Friday, 8:30 p.m ET/PT
(Fox)