'Hit the Road': TV Review

Hits mostly wrong notes.
10/17/2017

Jason Alexander's proudly immature 'Partridge Family'-esque musical comedy is not a reason to figure out if you have Audience Network.

Like many fledgling networks, AT&T's Audience Network presents a reviewing challenge.

If I recommend a show, like the solid late-summer Stephen King thriller Mr. Mercedes, many readers may not even know if they have access to Audience Network in order to sample the show.

And if I pan a show, well, it's probably a show you didn't know existed on a network you're not sure you have access to, so how has your life changed?

Like, did you know that Seinfeld star Jason Alexander, an eight-time Emmy nominee, has a new comedy series premiering on Tuesday? He does! It's on Audience Network! And it's very bad. So now I've warned you away from something you maybe didn't know existed and maybe don't know if you have access to anyway.

You're welcome?

Created by Alexander with Peter Tilden and Dean Craig, Hit the Road is a 2017 version of The Partridge Family, if Shirley Partridge were more like Rose from Gypsy and also played by Alexander. Ken (Alexander) and Meg (Amy Pietz) Swallow had a brief wave of minor success in the 1980s as the duo behind several songs with really suggestive titles. Desperate to return to the big time, Ken is leading his family around the country as an ensemble with the suggestive name Swallow. The family includes sexy daughter Ria (Natalie Sharp), IQ-challenged pothead son Alex (Nick Marini) and politically precocious younger daughter Casey (Maddie Dixon-Poirier). Swallow also features helium-voiced, anxiety-prone adopted son Jermaine (Tim Johnson Jr.), brought into the family and the band to add diversity and harmonies.

Ken is willing to do whatever it takes to get Swallow back to the music pinnacle, including lying, cheating and using his children any way he can to get their collective feet in the door. He's committed to Swallow and also to his autocratic authority over the band.

Hit the Road has the setup for a family show, but I can't emphasize nearly enough how much it's not a family show. Key plotlines involve Ken needing to perform a bathroom handjob to get the band a gig, Alex graphically masturbating to a faked naked picture of Ria and little Casey singing a religious song that takes on shadings of pedophilia when taken out of context. Yes, Hit the Road is raunchy and puerile, which hardly need be damning on its own, but it's also coarse and ugly. The bathroom handjob storyline is a nightmare of gay-panic plotting out of the worst and hackiest of '80s sitcoms, where it probably could be paired with the major episodic plotline built (loosely) around Ken looking for a place to take a dump after an unpleasant experience with street meat, an odyssey he discusses in gross detail. The objectifying of Ria is so nonstop I'd compare the characterization to that of Kelly Bundy, only with no awareness that 30 years have passed since Married… With Children and defining a character exclusively on jailbait-leering was already plenty icky back then.

The writers have so many fart, incest and lame political correctness jokes that episodes run between 27 and 31 minutes, making Hit the Road one of those misguided cable comedies that make you yearn for broadcast network restrictions in content and time. The extra running time isn't even used for musical numbers, as Hit the Road is only a loosely musical show about a musical family. I guess I should acknowledge that, relatively speaking, the five episodes I've watched don't overdo jokes relating to the band/family name. In fact, one could argue that when Swallow visits a college campus it's hard to imagine there not being more jokes about the name, so in this one area, it's important to acknowledge restraint.

There's still a chance that the immaturity could work, except that Alexander's character has been conceived of as something of a George Costanza type, constantly and irrationally irritated by everything and prone to yelling about the smallest slight. George worked when he was played by Alexander and written by Larry David, and Curb Your Enthusiasm has thrived on David reclaiming the role under his own name. The common denominator here would be David and without writing to support the character, Ken is shrill and unappealing and surrounded by supporting characters who are either one-dimensional or, in the case of Pietz's Meg, decently performed and underwritten. It's to the show's credit — look at me trying to find ways to be generous — that one of the episodes Audience Network sent to critics is a late-season installment that makes it clear that Ken's narcissistic awfulness is eventually a truth acknowledged by all. It's welcome self-awareness, but doesn't change the fact that Ken's narcissistic awfulness is hurting "feisty teen sex pot," "dumb teen stoner," "strident moppet" and "possibly offensive, but maybe not even developed enough to be offensive adopted son." The supporting characters were brewed in a sitcom laboratory and are played as such, with few surprises. Pietz and Sharp come the closest to salvaging.

It happens that Audience Network is pairing Hit the Road with a smarter, funnier show about an unrepentant asshole in Loudermilk. Granted that almost anything is smarter and funnier than Hit the Road, Loudermilk definitely is at least anchored by a good Ron Livingston performance. If you're going to bother figuring out if you have Audience Network and where it's hiding, Loudermilk is a better reason to do so.

Cast: Jason Alexander, Amy Pietz, Natalie Sharp, Nick Marini, Tim Johnson Jr., Maddie Dixon-Poirier
Creators: Jason Alexander, Peter Tilden, Dean Craig
Premieres: Tuesday, 10 p.m. ET/PT (Audience Network)

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