One of the funniest things about Hulu’s new comedy series Reboot might be its very name.
The series, which is meant to be a sometimes-visceral, inside-baseball attack on everything studio executives get wrong about making television, is actually not about a reboot at all.
The premise of Reboot is that a talented indie filmmaker (Rachel Bloom’s Hannah) wants to put a modern spin on a TGIF-style sitcom. Her plan is to reunite the original cast and further the laugh track-heavy story of Step Right Up, a sitcom about a man who marries a woman with a young son (and an ex who won’t leave the house).
The characters and location are the same, but the plots will change. Therefore—unless a potential second season of an already pretty meta show gets extra meta and starts all of Reboot over from scratch—this is a show about the making of a sequel, or at best, a revival.
But, semantics aside, Reboot is still a very funny show that hits hard at what’s wrong with everything from Peak TV culture (Krista Marie Yu plays Elaine, a Hulu executive who does her job by metrics and spreadsheets) to legendary sitcom writer hackery (“he lost his job because he falls asleep whenever he hears a bell!” offers up a TV writer played by former Hill Street Blues actor George Wyner), and proper workplace conduct in a post-MeToo era. Every episode title is a callback to a better, more respected comedy than the one at the center of this story. And the casting of Judy Greer, herself the star of many short-lived TV comedies—RIP, Miss Guided—as an actress who is really only known for being the mom in this one sitcom is akin to film icon John Travolta pointing out a bunch of other actors dressed as film icons during the $5 milkshake scene in Pulp Fiction.
All of this comes from Steven Levitan, one of the creators of Modern Family. Like Friends creators David Crane and Marta Kauffman before him, Levitan is now cursed to roam this earth dodging questions from reporters and fans as to whether there will ever be any remake/reboot/revival of his Emmy-winning program. Perhaps as a way of side-stepping that issue, but also inspired by the political and social landmine that was ABC’s attempted revival of Roseanne, Levitan offers a satire with some charm.
In Reboot, Bloom’s Hannah gets her wish when her Step Right Up revival is green-lit. She starts to bring together the cast and a new group of writers, wanting to build a working utopia—a safe space where everyone in the cast and crew can come to her with their problems. But then the original series’ creator, Paul Reiser’s “hey-this-mildly-offensive-storyline-killed-in-the-’90s!” Gordon, wants in on the action. He also knows all the tricks of how to skirt responsibility and avoid getting emotionally attached. Can two opinionated showrunners share a TV series without driving each other crazy?
It’s a fun premise. But where Reboot really shines is when it stops with the gimmicks and shows how damaging the industry can be, especially to actors. There’s the ageism that’s plagued Greer’s Bree Marie Larson, and the typecasting and limitations of material available to Keegan-Michael Key’s Reed Sterling (the actor who played the man who marries into this family) since the end of their sitcom. Former Disney Channel star Calum Worthy plays Zack, the once-little boy who starred as the heart of the show-within-a-show, who is no longer as precocious but still feels his mommy (Reno 911!’s Kerri Kenney) should come to set with him, and has to drag his boss, Bloom’s Hannah, with him to come to a custody agreement with his ex-girlfriend (the always enjoyable Esther Povitsky) for their shared dog.
In short, all of their careers need a reboot.
But, more importantly, there’s Johnny Knoxville’s Clay Barber. He played the ex who wouldn’t leave in the wholesome Step Right Up. But, in real life, Clay’s a comic and addict whose Gary Busey-like mugshot was a punchline for late-night hosts—but also, really, the public in general and our fickle and schadenfreude-driven attitudes toward fame. Clay struggles with sobriety when it seems everyone else wants, or expects, him to fail because that’s what he’s good at, and we can’t accept that people (celebrities) can change. Early in the season, he has sex with Zack’s mom not so much because he wants to, but because that’s what his reputation would suggest he would do. I never thought I’d feel emotion for a character played by the star of Jackass, but there’s a scene at the end of the season where he sits alone in his newly purchased, empty house, looking down at a bottle of alcohol sent to him by some well-meaning, but ill-advised Hulu exec….
I don’t know how much Levitan and his writers were attempting to make a commentary on fandom and the public’s inability to separate the person from the persona in their quest to lampoon the industry that feeds them. I also don’t know if they intentionally wanted to tell a tale of how long hours in an insular setting like a soundstage or writers room can make you forget about the world around you and how to have basic human interactions. Or how stressful it is to live a life where your livelihood is at the whim of someone in a swivel chair many floors above you. But these are certainly things that can be addressed if the show gets renewed.
Just don’t call it a reboot.
Reboot premieres with its first three episodes Tuesday, September 20th on Hulu.
Whitney Friedlander is an entertainment journalist with, what some may argue, an unhealthy love affair with her TV. A former staff writer at both Los Angeles Times and Variety, her writing has also appeared in Cosmopolitan, Vulture, The Washington Post and others. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, son, daughter, and very photogenic cat.
For all the latest TV news, reviews, lists and features, follow @Paste_TV.