The Crazy Ones Review: "Pilot" (Episode 1.01)
The Crazy Ones, CBS’s only single-camera, non-laugh-tracked comedy, is all about baggage. Simon Roberts runs an ad agency, yet with a shelf full of awards and a career that has clearly led to success, he worries that his best days might just be in his past. His daughter Sydney has the burden of being the sane, much-less eccentric member of the Roberts + Roberts advertising team, having to keep up outside appearances as the business has the strong possibility of falling apart.
CBS might have a similar problem of baggage with The Crazy Ones, as its strongest selling points might end up being the show’s downfall. First there’s David E. Kelley, creator of The Crazy Ones, who since the ’80s has written shows that try to at least be different, like Ally McBeal, Picket Fences and Boston Legal. Then there’s Sarah Michelle Gellar, who played probably one of the most important female television characters of all time as the lead on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and is returning to TV after last year’s failed Ringer.
But the biggest selling point and holder of baggage in The Crazy Ones is by far Robin Williams, who has such a wide spectrum to his talents that at any time he could be either a brilliant actor or be at nails-on-a-chalkboard levels of irritation. When Williams appears onscreen the first time as Simon Roberts, fighting a giant Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robot in his office while doing voices to himself, it isn’t that hopeful an outlook on where the show is going. As one of Simon’s associates points out, his schtick used to be charming, but that time has long passed.
The Crazy Ones seems to want to be a modern comedic take on Mad Men, blended with another cancelled, long-forgotten CBS series Love Monkey. In the pilot, Simon goes from frustrating ball of energy to Don Draper-ish advertising salesman, using nostalgia to win over McDonalds. In order to not completely lose McDonalds, who accounts for 60% of their business, they must pull together an ode to a 1972 commercial and song with a modern voice in only about a day’s time.
Roberts + Roberts have a team to help them, but after the pilot, their importance doesn’t seem that known quite yet. Clearly the most helpful member of the team is Zach, played by James Wolk, who also plays Mad Men’s mysterious Bob Benson. Wolk and Williams together are some of the funniest moments in the episode, most likely because it’s not just Williams going off on tangents by himself.
But the rest of the team isn’t quite essential. Hamish Linklater as Andrew so far only exists to make Sydney seem like not the only person at the company who is incredibly worried about its downfall. The Mindy Project’s Amanda Setton and Lauren seems even more pointless, as her only contributions are to be Williams’ walking-talking laugh-track and to offer him her hair to smell when he gets nervous. These three create a great supporting cast, just without much to do, they’re about as useful story wise as the robots in Simon’s office.
Thankfully by the second half of the episode, Williams has been toned down a bit and with the inclusion of Kelly Clarkson as the singer for the new ad, there are some laughs, but also plenty of awkward weirdness at her rebranding of herself to become sexier.
But really the biggest problem with The Crazy Ones is just the blandness of it all. There’s potential there, especially with the possibility of other cameos and modern brands to rework, but considering the talent and their history in some great and important television, there isn’t much yet that propels the show beyond mediocre.