'Making History': TV Review

Daniel McFadden/FOX
Travel elsewhere.

Fox's time-travel series starring Adam Pally and Leighton Meester is a comedy that's blatantly unfunny.

Since there are so many time-travel series on television now, maybe the next one (seems like there's always a next one) can have as its premise the ability to go back and rewrite a lot of those pilots and make them better.

In the case of Fox's latest sitcom, Making History, going back and making the pilot funnier would be a fantastic idea. Barring that, I'll take a PowerPoint presentation right now that explains to me how viewers who don't like that pilot are going to show up again a week later for a second episode that's only marginally more realized. Fox made critics time travel to a future episode instead of the third one, and since that one was also a mess, then maybe not seeing the third episode was in some way better? It's all very confusing.

What's not confusing is that the pilot for Making History is a big mess, taking so many shortcuts in plot (OK, fine, "plot") that it feels like you've already missed the pilot and have stumbled on, say, the third episode.

The series revolves around Dan (Adam Pally), a facilities manager at a fictional Massachusetts college who has, by the time we meet him, already discovered and used a time machine made out of a gym bag that's so big it can fit at least three humans — which comes in handy if that's your idea for a time machine (better that it's never explained, by the way).

Dan, something of a loser in the present, has gone back in time and wooed Paul Revere's daughter, Deborah (Leighton Meester) and distracted her father, thus messing up history's timelines. To help fix that, Dan takes the very bright history teacher from his college, Chris (Yassir Lester), with him back in time to set things straight.

Instead of saying, right here, that "much comedy ensues," how about just saying that much comic potential is squandered? Like, great gobs of it. For every small bit that hits, five others miss. For example, in the "is this the second or third episode?" episode, Dan tells a dubious Chris that he has a time machine in his garage. Chris thinks he's crazy and perhaps trying to murder him, so he brings a large knife into the garage, whereupon he sees the ridiculously large gym bag.

"Get in. I'll zip you up," says Dan.

"No. Never." says Chris, correctly.

Dan: "Why not?"

Chris: "What story starts with a guy getting in a duffel bag in a garage and has a happy ending?"

If there were more self-aware jokes like that, it might help. But tone is a real issue in Making History, so we have several very, very painful scenes that derail interest. It's one thing for Dan to be lying to Deborah about singing her songs (a joke that could, of course, be milked forever; he starts off singing Celine Dion), but quite another when Chris tries to lure bar patrons into the Revolution by delivering a fiery speech, only to have it fail and be reduced to mimicking movie lines, ending with a really sorry take on "Show me the money!"

In another scene, Chris drinks piss out of a chamber pot used by the forefathers (about as funny as it sounds), one of those forefathers talks about going down to the river to drink some water, catch a parasite "and diarrhea my brains out," and not long after that, Dan and Chris depart Paul Revere's shop by saying, "I'm Tom Cruise, this is Magic Johnson, we're the Blues Brothers."

Yes, really.

It's wasted opportunities galore here.

Making History was created by Julius Sharpe (Family Guy, The Grinder), who also wrote the pilot (but not the other episodes I watched, so the blame gets spread around). It's produced by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (The Lego Movie and Fox's other TV comedies The Last Man on Earth and Son of Zorn), which probably helped this show get made, for better or worse.

Whenever Making History strings together a little momentum (as in the second episode, where it tries to appropriate the absurdist tones of Monty Python), the gains are offset minutes later by more and more dumb jokes. In the April 2 episode — if you make it that far — there's a joke about Dan never having eaten sushi (really?), so he's tricked by an annoyed Chris into believing that wasabi is really guacamole. This joke is terrible, of course, but gets worse in its execution when Dan says he loves guacamole and stuffs the wasabi in his mouth and gurgles out painfully. Comedy is subjective, but not that subjective. So, where do you go when you see something that patently stupid and unfunny?

Probably to another show.

Cast: Adam Pally, Leighton Meester, Yassir Lester
Creator: Julius Sharpe

Air Sundays at 8:30 p.m. on Fox.

Email: Tim.Goodman@THR.com

Twitter: @BastardMachine