Let’s start with the expected snarky reaction, which is: If Sean Hayes could not save this show, how can he save the world?
And let’s counter that with the assertion that sitcoms aren’t intended to save the world. If all goes well, they make people laugh.
NBC’s Thursday “Sean Saves the World” has a solid cast, with Megan Hilty (“Smash”) as Liz, Sean’s co-worker, and Linda Lavin (“Alice”) as his mom, Lorna. Lavin, with deadpan delivery, is perfect, and Hayes (“Will & Grace”) has impeccable timing.
Performed in front of an audience, this has the predictable feel of old sitcoms, albeit with the modern twist of a gay single dad who is not camping it up.
The scenes with Hayes and Lavin are the best, and Lavin manages to be funny even before she’s on-screen. In the pilot, she rings the doorbell repeatedly, and he snaps at her, “Calm down, you maniac! I’m parenting.”
“The good ones can do it and answer the door,” she says.
Sean’s daughter, Ellie (Samantha Isler), comes to live with him in Chicago when her mom, Sean’s ex-wife, moves away. Sean goes from the fun, weekends-only dad to the 24/7 parent.
Hayes, who has been producing (“Hot in Cleveland,” “Hollywood Game Night”), recalls meeting with network executives to devise a concept. He knew he wanted to delve into “what relationships we hadn’t seen,” Hayes says. “A single gay dad raising a teenage daughter is a relationship I have never seen. And I like the complications that work presents.”
Sean works as a manager for an online merchandise company whose new owner, Max (Thomas Lennon), is aggressively callous. This gives Sean fodder for office situations and home challenges.
“My daughter is going to start to date and the opportunities that presents,” Hayes tells Zap2it in a hotel lobby. “And it is ‘What about this and what about that?’ To me it is a wonderful playground of how the relationships would work. The relatability of being a single parent, balancing home and life. We haven’t seen a lot of single dads.
“There aren’t a lot of positive role models for males,” Hayes continues. “The role models for males are superheroes, who will kill each other, and other sports figures,” he continues. “If I can aid in any way in portraying positive role models in any way, that would be awesome.”
Hayes has portrayed plenty of straight characters. “For years, I only played a straight guy, and what made me famous was an over-the-top, hilarious gay guy,” he says of Jack. “He was fun to play.”
And though this character is also gay, he is no more like Jack than any two straight characters would be alike. The constant is that Hayes uses his gift for physical comedy.
“I am excited to play a responsible gay leader,” Hayes says, referring to Sean’s job. “Being gay is the fifth most interesting thing about him.”
To help with 14-year-old Ellie, Sean relies on Liz. In addition to working with him, she had catered his wedding, and they stayed friends. He also relies on his mom to help with Ellie.
Sean sees Lorna as negative; Lorna sees herself as honest.
“She doesn’t think she’s negative,” Lavin says. “You know, we don’t think that about ourselves when we play a character. We go for what we want, and the more desperate we are or the more infuriated we are, the more the source of comedy lives. So that’s where the comedy comes, for me, from anger, frustration, desperation and lying, cheating — but not from being nice.”