The key to an emotional drama has almost always been knowing the “wants” of its characters. They all need at least one in order for an audience to pull for (or against) them in their journey. But it seems with comedy the key to mining laughs from those wants is a sincere sense of desperation in their quest to get them. That soul-crushing desperation that will drive a character to do or say something completely against their own sense of what’s logical. And while Hollywood can seem unrealistic or an unidentifiable place to set stories, it is can actually assist in heightening drama to comedic proportions. For the successful ones, it’s a city of dreams, but for the nobodies struggling to get by, it’s a city of extreme anxiety.
That is the premise of TV Land’s latest series, Nobodies, another in their line of heightened reality comedies about the “real lives” of comics. These aren’t reality series, but they do mine the real life experiences of their creators/stars. Nobodies stars three Groundlings alumni-Larry Dorf, Rachel Ramras, and Hugh Davidson-who play themselves and wrote the entire series as a team. They play writing partners who’ve been sidelined into the business of children’s animation (in real life they’ve also written for animation), because they need to pay their bills. Their peers from Groundlings are often rudely dismissive of their work (although, the show they work on seems particularly bad) and that highlights the fact that following the same track in the bizz, they didn’t find the same levels of fame and success. Their friends like Kristen Wiig, Michaela Watkins, Cheryl Hines, Nat Faxon, Maya Rudolph, and Jim Rash are familiar faces in TV and film. They make a show about a farting family whose target demographics are still mastering toilet training.
So they’ve set their sights on the Hollywood big time, writing a big budget comedy script called Mr. First Lady, and hoping the current hot property in Hollywood from Groundlings, Melissa McCarthy, will attach her name to their script (McCarthy and husband Ben Falcone produce the show and appear in several episodes).
Somewhere between The Larry Sanders Show and Extras in its use of real-life celebrities, the show’s interest in unreal/real relationships in Hollywood seem to be an area of life they’re particularly interested in exploring. Their “friendship” with Melissa and Ben has completely changed since they started to use each other to get ahead; they want to use Melissa to get it made, and Ben wants to build up his own acting career with a star vehicle. Even the more intimate relationships between the three leads address the question of what is real and fake in this town, like Rachel’s relationship with her ex-husband or Larry’s budding friendship with a producer. Several of their biggest connections come from Hugh’s roommate/sometimes friend, a weirdo without a filter that Rachel and Larry can barely stand to look at. Are these friends asking for help? Or colleagues asking for professional favors? Probably a little of both)…After all, it’s a town that’s all about who you know.
The first 6 episodes function almost like one large story documenting their mission to get Mr. First Lady attached to Melissa. But you can certainly see the potential for more traditional long-form storytelling (it already has a second season) with the focus being on their continuing misadventures to “make it”. While the cameos by real stars are often very funny (particularly Ben Falcone, Jason Bateman, and Bob Odenkirk) it is to the show’s credit that the cameos are window dressing and the characters holding your interest remain the “nobodies.” All three are excellent actors (as well as writers), each bringing something different to the mix without going for extreme character types.
The show isn’t aiming high in premise or execution, and there is a certain familiarity to the cringe-comedy of Hollywood we’ve seen over the past two decades. But the show is well-made and has a rich, clean look thanks to Michael McDonald’s good visual eye as its director. And the show is consistently well-written, particularly, it’s smart, but relatable dialogue, and embraces the comedy of cringe without turning their characters into the jokes. The show has great compassion for their average lives and daily struggles of these characters while still showing them as frequently unlikable. The creators have confidence that the audiences will feel the same way towards them, and after 6 episodes, they’d earned it.
Nobodies premieres TONIGHT, Wednesday March 29, 2017 at 10pm only on TV Land.