April 17, 2009

TV Review | Sit Down, Shut Up 1.1, 1.2 – “Pilot,” “Miracle’s Are Real”

The main selling point of Sit Down, Shut Up (Fox/Global: starts April 19, 8:30 PM; 7:30 PM Central [Fox]) is that it’s a new series from Mitchell Hurwitz and Two and a Half Men writers/executive producers Eric and Kim Tannenbaum.  Most people stop at the mention of the Tannenbaums and go “ew, Two and a Half Men? that show is shit!”  In all fairness, Two and a Half Men is shit, but let’s move on.

Sit Down, Shut Up is similar to Arrested Development in that it features Jason Bateman and Will Arnett in lead roles.  The show is fond of ludicrous character names – Bateman is everyman P.E. teacher Larry Littlejunk, while Arnett is English teacher/womanizer Ennis Hofftard.  Saturday Night Live castmembers also feature, with Will Forte, Cheri Oteri and Kenan Thompson earning some pay.

The pilot takes a while to introduce Sit Down, Shut Up‘s characters, hardly Knob Haven High School’s finest.  Littlejunk, Hofftard, New Agey science teacher Miracle Grohe (Kristin Chenoweth), Acting Principal Sue Sezno (Thompson), happily oblivious Ass. Principal Stuart Proszakian (Forte) and bisexual drama teacher Andrew LeGustambos (Nick Kroll) are the most focused-on.

Tom Kenny is terrorist/custodian Muhannad Sabeeh “Happy” Fa-ach Nuabar.  Oteri plays ugly, gruff librarian Helen Klench, while Henry Winkler rounds out the cast as German teacher Willard Deutschebog.  The pilot even goes so far as to underline key catchphrases, just in case Sit Down, Shut Up becomes popular and Mitchell Hurwitz needs to license some shirts.

Sit Down, Shut Up is ostensibly a remake of the same-named 2001 Australian sitcom, except that it’s a pragmatic adaptation.  The show is similar in style to Bromwell High, a 2005 British/Canadian series that focused mainly on teachers.

Sure, Bromwell High also focused on three students, but the “students second” attitude is similar.  While Sit Down, Shut Up can be funny at times, Bromwell High had Iqbal.  Advantage: Bromwell High.  Next on our list, item 54…

Larry Littlejunk is a fairly boring lead character, as much the straight man as Michael Bluth on Arrested Development.  I’m going by two episodes of a series that will air after I write this review, but I already don’t care for his infatuation with/hatred of Miracle Grohe.  The other Sit Down, Shut Up characters are more interesting, even Deutschebog.

There’s a lot of fourth-wall breaking in Sit Down, Shut Up, which doesn’t seem as odd in an animated show airing before Family Guy.  There isn’t a fundamental difference between Sit Down, Shut Up and AD the way there is with Family Guy and American Dad! or The Simpsons and Futurama.  That’s a problem.

The photographic background gimmick is just that.  It’s not important to the show, although the backgrounds and animation are blended almost seamlessly.  Mo Willems‘ character designs are much more important, giving the show a clean and visually distinctive look.  Stuart Proszakian looks fairly close to real-world Will Forte.  It makes me wonder why Arrested Development wasn’t a cartoon, since that might have earned the show a few more years.

The first two episodes of Sit Down, Shut Up are as uneven as Arrested Development was during its three-season run, which is still funnier than the shows currently on Fox’s Sunday lineup.  Compared to the twentieth season of The Simpsons or Family Guy at its Conway Twittiest, Sit Down, Shut Up isn’t that bad.

Will Arnett is always fun to watch, while Kristin Chenoweth is perfect as Miracle Grohe.  Nick Kroll’s voice is also appropriate for LeGustambos.  Kenan Thompson is in a role where his tendency to overact is muted, which is odd since he’s voicing Sue Sezno.  Thompson playing a woman should lend itself to all sorts of Virginiaca-isms, but he reins himself in for Sit Down, Shut Up.

Cheri Oteri underperforms as Klench, while Forte just plays Forte and gets away with it.  As for Tom Kenny, he could have stayed home since Happy’s not much of a character.  Sit Down, Shut Up wastes Kenny in a role that amounts to barely a minute of screen time per episode.  It’s like hiring Bobcat Goldthwait to yell “ahhhh!” once every twelve minutes.

The show has garnered mainly negative reviews so far.  I’m actually amazed critics are piling on Sit Down, Shut Up.  Either I’m not noticing how bad it really is, Mitchell Hurwitz’s comedy style is no longer in vogue, or the critics expected such a high standard from SD,SU that they’re overreacting to a fairly manky pilot episode.

The real problem with SD,SU is that it comes up short compared to other shows set in a high school.  It’s hard to go up against Daria, Bromwell High, Summer Heights High and Clone High and not expect to be sacked harder than an inept quarterback carrying his team to the ass-end of a 105-0 blowout.

It’s not like Sit Down, Shut Up can’t improve.  Futurama and American Dad! found their niches despite poor starts.  The first season of The Simpsons was absolute shit compared to what it became later.  If Sit Down, Shut Up is going to be all Stuart-is-a-prison-clown jokes, the show won’t last, but I’m not ready to throw it into the Fish Police/Capitol Critters box at this point.

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