'Loudermilk': TV Review

Worth the effort to find on the dial.

It's another surprise gem from AT&T's Audience Network, as this smart and searing comedy proves deeper than it initially seems.

It's probably not surprising that if you make a comedy about an irascible, burned-out former music writer and alcoholic who now spends his time as a substance abuse counselor, the pilot would probably be a bit over-the-top on the grumpy grunge of the main character, in this case Sam Loudermilk, played by Ron Livingston.

And yes, the first episode of Loudermilk, on AT&T's Audience Network, is funny if overly intent on leaning hard on the "abuse counselor is abusive to everyone" schtick. But it's also well-written and engaging, which should get you to the second episode. That's where the show prevails and, over the course of four episodes sent to critics, continues to become more winning, creative and, dare it be said, likeable.

Created by director Peter Farrelly (Dumb and Dumber) and writer Bobby Mort (The Colbert Report), Loudermilk is the second surprising offering from AT&T's Audience Network, following the acclaimed Mr. Mercedes (the channel can be found on DirecTV, DirecTV Now and AT&T U-verse). It's also more proof that really good series are being created on a lot of really diverse platforms, and if your intention is tracking down quality, it may take more effort than you imagined.

But Loudermilk is a smart, funny show where Livingston's misanthropic first impression belies his unwavering effort to help those in need and, in a bit of effective casting, Will Sasso is there to smooth down the rough edges as Ben, Loudermilk's best friend and sobriety sponsor. Ben is effectively sweet and funny but never saccharine, which would have been the rote way to counter Loudermilk's more outsized grumpiness (and yes, they call him by his last name on the show and rarely "Sam").

Mort, who gives Loudermilk a shotgun blast of rants to dispense in each episode, manages to find a balance by the second episode, allowing the main character — who is four years sober — to become more dimensional. Some of that is the developing backstory, but in other areas it's the revelation that, as a former music writer for Spin and Rolling Stone, he's got that all-in, obsessive passion that allows him to drop a very effective Saul Zaentz joke about Creedence Clearwater Revival in one scene and then say, "What kind of monster evicts you using Comic Sans" in the next. Which is to say that Loudermilk's riffs are replete with some creative cultural flourishes.

But the writing for all the characters is strong. In addition to Sasso's Ben character (who harbors a deep secret), there are a number of intriguing side characters in rehab and two female leads in Claire (Anja Savcic) — whom Loudermilk is forced to help "save" from alcohol and drugs because her mother has sway over the priest who gives Loudermilk's support group free meeting space — and Allison (Laura Mennell), who could become a love interest for Loudermilk but who currently finds him mostly awful (plus she's traveled across the country to Seattle to be with her doctor boyfriend).

(And yes, though Loudermilk is set in Seattle, it actually films in Vancouver and other areas in British Columbia.)

Credit Mort and Farrelly with slowly building out an eclectic little comedy that really grows on you. Livingston's not as perpetually dour as he first seems, but it's not like a switch gets flipped to make you like his character right away — the shading is earned in the storytelling. Sasso, who has played bit parts all over the place (MadTV, Curb Your Enthusiasm, as well as starring in the Farrelly brothers' own Three Stooges film), might be the stealthy secret weapon here. Both Savcic and Mennell stand out as they carve out a space for their characters.

But mostly Loudermilk proves, even in its rougher spots, to really have something special in the writing, which is essential. There's a scene where the priest who oversees Loudermilk's meeting space for his support group is having a conversation about how things are going and offers up a verse from Isaiah 58:10: "And if you spend yourself in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday." To which Loudermilk responds: "That's Jethro Tull, but I don't know the cut."

It's funny but perhaps too easy, until the two follow that up with a more serious discussion about Claire's chances of truly getting sober: "Same as anyone at this phase," Loudermilk says. "Probably 70-30 she relapses. Maybe 80-20. But Iggy Pop lived through the '70s, so I don't know, anything can happen."

There's a good mix in Loudermilk. Now, as with a lot of smaller gems out there, you just have to find it.

Cast: Ron Livingston, Will Sasso, Anja Savcic, Laura Mennell
Created by: Peter Farrelly, Bobby Mort
Written by: Bobby Mort
Directed by: Peter Farrelly
Premieres: Tuesday, 10:30 p.m. ET/PT (Audience Network)