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Because Hollywood loves depicting Hollywood, few stones in the creative process have been left unturned over the years.
Credit TV Land’s Nobodies, premiering March 29, for giving what is surely the definitive insight into the human condition of what it’s like to kinda be friends with Melissa McCarthy, but not close enough friends to get her to commit to star in your movie script.
Air date: Mar 29, 2017
Is this a universally applicable plight? Perhaps not. But, figuratively, who amongst us hasn’t had our own metaphorical Identity Thief star who we yearned to give above-the-title credibility in our own metaphorical high-concept studio comedy?
I’d love to say that, at its heart, Nobodies was about something more, that the true Melissa McCarthy was “love” all along, but … Nah. Nobodies is mostly about knowing Melissa McCarthy and not being able get her to do your movie.
Forgive my being repetitive, but I just watched five episodes of Nobodies and there is no joke in Nobodies so precious that the joke isn’t repeated at least a half-dozen times. It’s an uncomplicated show determined to uncomplicate itself further.
Hugh (Hugh Davidson), Larry (Larry Dorf) and Rachel (Rachel Ramras) are part of the Los Angeles comedy scene, members of the Groundlings. They’ve written a script called Mr. First Lady that they’re trying to sell as a vehicle for their old Groundlings-mate Melissa (Melissa McCarthy), not that she’s actually said she’ll do the movie.
I think part of the joke is that the movie is a weird sell since the title character obviously wouldn’t be played by McCarthy, though they want her to play the first female president. Nobody in Nobodies acknowledges that this is a problem, but maybe they don’t have the chance since Melissa is too busy to do much more than text Rachel, forcing the trio to make all manner of promises to various agents and studio types, while also looking for potential co-stars, including Jason Bateman and Melissa’s husband Ben Falcone. This goes on and on.
For the record, because it feels like an important thing to know and not an important thing to be secretive about, McCarthy appears at the beginning of the fourth episode. The cameo is brief, not especially funny and surely anti-climactic given the build-up. But even if Hugh, Larry and Rachel may not be able to deliver Melissa, at least Nobodies can. She and Falcone are, after all, executive producers.
One thing Nobodies, created by Davidson, Dorf and Ramras, does well is portray Hollywood as the many-tiered hierarchy that it is, a place where no matter how successful you are, you’re always being belittled (intentionally and unintentionally) by your richer, hotter, more acclaimed buddies. Nobodies fills in those tiers with an assortment of familiar faces (and friends of the creators). At the top, you have the movie stars like Melissa or Kristen Wiig, but also Oscar winners like Jim Rash and Nat Faxon. Perhaps a level down you have the unimpeachably successful, like Maya Rudolph. Then there are writers.
Our heroes dream of being movie writers, but they’re just working on TV and they’re not just working on TV, they’re working in animation. And they’re not working on Fox animation, they’re working on Nickelodeon. And they’re not working on a reputable Nickelodeon show, they’re working on something called The Fartlemans, which is exactly what you’d imagine it to be.
So even though Larry, Rachel and Hugh are doing well by most measures, they’re not doing well by the measure they aspire to, or by the standards of their friends, and every indignity gets repeated over and over again. I’m really not sure how much we’re supposed to sympathize with Larry, Rachel and Hugh versus how much we’re supposed to feel like, “Stop whining about your nomination for the Annies, they’re a somewhat reputable award show, and we’ve seen nothing clever enough to indicate that you deserve any recognition at all.” The struggles are pretty petty and they’re all from a position of privilege, and the squirmy embarrassments that the guys go through each episode have basically zero stakes.
Beyond correctly identifying Hollywood’s core insecurity and layers of inferiority complexes, Nobodies isn’t committed to being satire or parody, nor is it especially insightful. My reaction to nearly everything was a, “Yeah, I guess that seems right,” but without laughing or even smiling.
It’s not a love letter to the industry, but it gums around Hollywood celebrity without ever finding teeth, especially when it comes to the cameos by stars playing themselves. We’ve seen so many shows like this (or even about sports or politics) in which recognizable figures appear as themselves to either exaggerate or run counter to their established personae, and what we laugh at is the specificity.
We like “Stars! They’re just like we think they are!” or “Stars! They’re nothing like we expect them to be!” But what Nobodies offers instead is “Stars! Sometimes we can get them to show up!” Watch what Wiig or Bateman or Allison Janney do on Nobodies and tell me if their cameos couldn’t have been played by literally any star. Bateman plays pickup basketball and is amiable enough. Janney rides elevators and doesn’t like having her personal space violated. If the point of Nobodies is that even the biggest stars might as well be nobodies, that mission is accomplished, but I don’t think that’s the point.
The three main characters also fail to find distinctive voices for themselves. It was at least three episodes before I could have told you which member of the main trio is Hugh and which is Larry, and other than Larry’s character having a wife and Hugh’s character having a beard, I still can’t. Everybody in Nobodies sounds identical. Again, there’s a chance that this is intentional, but I can’t review around that assumption.
Based on initial clips, I thought Nobodies was part of the Crashing/I’m Dying Up Here (and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel Amazon pilot) wave of shows about making it in standup comedy, and it’s at least relevant to clarify that that’s not where Nobodies fits in. Although our characters do occasional appearances with the Groundlings, we only see the backstage preparation, and that’s not really their goal. Instead of being an inoffensive underachiever within this trend, it’s an inoffensive underachiever in the much broader “Making it in Hollywood” genre, intended to prove that TV Land is friends with Melissa McCarthy, but probably not much else.
Network: TV Land
Cast: Hugh Davidson, Larry Dorf and Rachel Ramras
Creators: Hugh Davidson, Larry Dorf and Rachel Ramras
Airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. ET/PT on TV Land, premiering March 29.
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