Earlier this summer, NBC chief Bob Greenblatt said part of his mission in reviving the network would be to “broaden” its comedy brand beyond the small but loyal audience that watches shows like “Community” and “Parks and Recreation.”
That is, of course, his job: NBC and its cohorts are called broadcast networks for a reason. The problem is that “broad” can also be code for “dumb” — the thinking being that by going for the easiest jokes and most obvious character beats, a comedy can bring in the widest audience. There’s ample evidence of that formula working throughout television history, but broad and smart can work too: See “Modern Family,” or “The Big Bang Theory,” or “New Girl.” NBC may even have a show like that this season in “Go On,” which opened to pretty solid ratings.
NBC also, however, has “Guys With Kids,” which is airing its pilot episode at 10 p.m. ET Wednesday (Sept. 12) before moving to its regular 8:30 home in two weeks. It’s not terrible — the cast is populated with likable actors, and parenthood is basically a bottomless source of comedy material and emotionally relatable moments.
But the show (or at least the pilot, which is all NBC sent out for review) is maddeningly unspecific about the ups and downs of fatherhood. The one or two cases where it zeroes in on its characters — as when overwhelmed and outnumbered couple Gary (Anthony Anderson) and Marny (Tempestt Bledsoe) finally get a moment away from their four boys — are its best moments. But the rest of it feels awfully lightweight.
On the upside, “Guys With Kids” does present its three main characters — married guys Gary and Nick (Zach Cregger) and divorced dad Chris (Jesse Bradford), buddies who all live in the same apartment building — as competent parents, give or take an occasional inappropriate “Goodfellas” viewing. They’re all capable of spending more than 30 seconds alone with their children without endangering the kids’ lives. There’s comedy in how they deal with certain situations, but you never feel anxious for the kids’ welfare.
Being married guys on a sitcom, though, they are of course at times befuddled and clueless, particularly in regard to the women in their lives. Chris can’t figure out how to deal with his controlling ex (Erinn Hayes), who shuts down every argument about their son with “I carried him inside me.” Nick badly misreads his wife Emily’s (Jamie-Lynn Sigler) interest in a school fund-raiser and scrambles to make up for it. Gary and Marny — well, they’re just tired.
Anderson and former “Cosby” kid Bledsoe get the best of the laugh lines in the pilot, and although Anderson tends to play to the back row in comedy work, they form a convincingly harried (but mostly united) couple. Sigler gets the least to do, and Hayes’ Sheila is written so one-dimensionally that it’s extremely difficult to see why Chris would ever have been attracted to her. Here’s hoping future episodes humanize and round her out at least a little bit.
With the talent both in front of and behind the camera — “Guys With Kids” was created by “The Office” writer-producer Charlie Grandy and has Jimmy Fallon as an executive producer — the show feels like it should be better. And maybe it will be — comedies often take a little longer to find a groove than dramas do. But if this is the ideal of a “broad” comedy, we’ll be waiting for something more specific.