There weren’t a lot of great new shows to debut this fall. Very few series got widely panned (although I can think of a few bummers myself, good riddance to We Are Men) and very few were wildly hailed as the next big hit. But there were a couple of gems genuinely worth looking forward to this season. The Crazy Ones, starring audience favorites Robin Williams and Sarah Michelle Gellar, was one worth getting a little crazy about, and wisely, CBS agreed. It earned one of the early full-season pick-ups.
The show’s premise feels a little like, “What if Robin Williams played Don Draper?” It’s wacky, but it’s still a stab at the magic of good marketing and the mad minds of ad men. The Crazy Ones offers a glimpse into the world of top-tier advertising geniuses, but your guide is the kooky genie from Aladdin. That’s not to say the show is completely absurd. There’s some heart here, tethered tightly to the father-daughter relationship of Williams and Gellar’s characters.
Show creator David E. Kelley’s hallmark is the “dramedy.” His work has probably presented a case for it as its own Emmy category at some point. Ally McBeal’s 1999 Emmy win gave Kelley the cred to be at the Comedy Table. That year he beat out some of the best sitcoms of the era, like Everybody Loves Raymond, Frasier, and Friends. Later, Kelley steered back toward drama with a comedy chaser, but with The Crazy Ones successfully placed in CBS’ Thursday night comedy line-up, and running only 30 minutes, all signs point to this being a more standard comedy. Boston Legal is certainly lineage for this series, which feels like a Kelley classic, but the half-hour time slot makes it unique. Sometimes constraints, deadlines and time limits can really fuel the creative process. The first few episodes of the series seem to say that holds true here.
As far as the star goes, like him or not, Williams is a comedy legend of our time. He’s an icon, and this show embraces that, letting him do all the things he does well. For anyone contesting his range, let’s all be clear that we would all rather watch a Mork & Mindy marathon over a dramatic viewing of What Dreams May Come. But Williams really gets to do both comedy and drama here. And this is sort of Kelley’s wheelhouse, too. These guys may really get this right together. Kelley is a master at bringing the best out in actors you might otherwise count out, or assume you already know everything about, see: William Shatner on Boston Legal. Williams has a knack for a little sweet, and a little savory. Let’s see if he can meld them together under Kelley’s lead.
The Crazy Ones still has to find its creative groove, but it’s clear that CBS is backing it 100%. I can’t imagine this show not getting every chance to thrive for years to come. And let’s be honest, the product placement opportunities are the definition of “golden” for the network. The upfronts for this must have been like Christmas and every advertisers’ birthday rolled into one. The classic McDonald’s jingle even played a prominent part in the pilot. (They managed to tie Kelly Clarkson to the home of the McDLT in primetime. She certainly kept the hot side hot, and the cool side cool, which has nothing to do with anything, except that I hope she got paid a fortune for it.)
Even outside Williams, this show boasts a great, convincing, and engaging cast. The chemistry is there, and you get the sense that they are all-in. For as out there as Williams can get, no one winces. In fact, they all play along. There is a lot for the audience to connect to, and in a season of lackluster pilots, that may be the thing that sealed the deal for me.
For all the talk about Williams, kudos should be given to Gellar. She’s a TV vet, albeit a youthful one. She plays the straight man to William’s manic persona more often than not, but she clearly gets the funny here. Her chemistry with Hamish Linklater is strong, and could almost fall into a Dave and Maddie from Moonlighting vibe, if the show chooses to go that route. That’s one of the tricky things about the show — it’s a half-hour, ensemble comedy, so there’s not a lot of time to develop relationships in the same way an hour-long dramedy might.
Thursday nights are shaping up as a fascinating battleground, even though we aren’t more than a scant couple weeks into the season. CBS was already dominant here with The Big Bang Theory and Two and a Half Men already tops in the ratings. So, The Crazy Ones has had a boost out of the gate.
Meanwhile, NBC is still struggling to return to its “Must See TV” glory, even though executives are doing their best to harken back to the network’s golden days, even bringing back stars Sean Hayes and Michael J. Fox (whose show earned high marks here at AFT) to the line-up. But it seems CBS may have created a juggernaut that is hard to beat right now, with Williams and Gellar taking a place comfortably at the center of it.
The Crazy Ones airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on CBS.