Rating Four New January Comedies
By Julien Rodger
January provided four new comedies of varying types from animation (Velma), network multi camera sitcom (Night Court), streaming multi camera sitcom (That 90’s Show) and streaming single camera comedy (Shrinking).
In alphabetical order:
Night Court (NBC)
I wasn’t familiar with the original, but this won me over, especially with its willingness to embrace “heart to heart” scenes with the relationship between Melissa Rauch’s judge (playing the daughter of the original Night Court’s lead) and John Laroquette reprising his role, now having endured a few decades of heartbreak and cutting himself off from the world. Rauch’s character reminds me of Leslie Knope in wearing her heart on her sleeve and seeing the best in everyone. In addition to the wacky offenders who come through the night court, they have leaned on Lacretta as the bailiff as one of the funnier characters. India de Beaufort as the prosecutor and Kapi Talwalker as the younger male clerk are the ones most finding their footing. This is one of the most promising starts recently for a genre that’s struggled to have memorable entries in the last decade and a half.
With its creators being Bill Lawrence and Brett Goldstein of Ted Lasso and a feel good, dad-friendly vibe, it’s not so subtly aiming to be Lasso fans’ replacement show. But this makes more awkward fit with therapy than coaching soccer, as it threatens to undercut issues its characters have like Parkinson’s, grieving over a dead wife, or PTSD. It just feels slight. The soundtrack feels pulled from the Sirius alternative station to the near point of parody. Ford is the standout of the cast showing a more vulnerable side for him and Christa Miller’s neighbour trying too hard to raise Segel’s daughter for him is one of the most compelling storylines.
That 90’s Show (Netflix)
To nobody’s surprise Kurtwood Smith and Debra Jo Rupp are game in their classic roles, as are the original cast members, although the kids are a mixed bag. Callie Haverda as Eric’s sheltered daughter Leia does well, Reyn Doi as the gay asian sidekick steals most of his scenes, and Mace Coronel as Kelso’s kid mixes dumb and heartthrob well. Through three episodes I find Ashley Aufderheide as Leia’s new bestie Gwen who’s role is “cooler than Leia and looks like Zendaya” is a little too perfect in the show’s eyes to be funny, and the secondary dumb male friend feel like most of his scenes could have been replaced by the young Kelso, as does his girlfriend feel like just the other girl than Leia and Gwen. By the 2nd and 3rd episodes Gwen’s mom is introduced as a series of punching down white trash jokes in a way that turned me off, and after revealing she’s dating Fez felt a forced way to push him into the storyline. On the whole most of the comedy that works in That 90’s Show is carried by the cast members rather than the joke writing being anything special.
Velma (HBO Max)
January’s most maligned show online has been underappreciated, mixing high quality animation from its hallucination scenes to visual gags that add to the humour, with a stacked voice cast of Mindy Kaling, Sam Richardson, Glenn Howerton, Constance Wu and others who’s talent adds a lot to their roles. Velma’s jokes sometimes has the structure of Kaling’s Mindy Project’s character such as casually revealing her views are more outdated than her progressive surface, nonetheless it’s a joke that works. Norville as the Shaggy equivalent, now a friendzoned beta, Daphne as the secret badass jewel of Velma’s eye like the Poison Ivy to her Harley, and Fred as the rich white kid turned male feminist all get their moments to shine, and the mother mystery is a serviceable season 1 plot. Despite its wacky energy underneath there is some real emotion and pain about kids estranged from their parents. While it’s not quite as good as Harley Quinn, it’s another high quality HBO Max adult animation that seems to be improving as it goes on.