Robin Williams makes his return to television in his first starring role since Mork & Mindy completed its run in 1982 in a pedigree-packed show from producer David E. Kelley (Ally McBeal, Boston Legal). The comedian stars as Simon Roberts, the zany head of a Chicago advertising agency who works alongside his far more buttoned-up daughter, Sydney (Sarah Michelle Gellar).
The show may seem as though it was conceived as a launching pad for Williams' improvisational antics, and there's certainly plenty of room in the premise for all manner of shenanigans. Roberts is a loopy creative genius who is as eccentric as he is inspired, his ideas are as unconventional as his methods - that sort of thing. The degree to which Williams' style and particular brand of humor appeals to you will probably be commensurate with your interest in the show.
Having said that, no one goes off the rails, here. The writing is tight, if a little mixed in terms of tone, as are the performances. You'll likely be able to pick out the moments where Williams was let off the leash as it were, and there are plenty of them. His now familiar shticks are all in play: imitations, spontaneous riffs, and endlessly silly faces; which for some will be charming, for others, perhaps less so. The good news is that, for the most part, the improvisational interludes play into, rather than disrupt, the story.
There's a nice sense of warmth to the father/daughter relationship and Geller, for her part, does a fine job as straight man. She's not given much to do other than try and wrangle, cajole, and otherwise manage her dad, though. The actress is provided one big grab for laughs, unfortunately it feels more awkward than hilarious when all is said and done. In general, the jokes tend to feel forced. Surprisingly, the standouts in the pilot are Mad Men's James Wolk, who co-stars as the agency himbo, and Kelly Clarkson, making a guest appearance as herself. It's possible that Wolk and Clarkson, free of the burden of living into their own hype, are simply relaxed enough to just be funny.
The episode finds the agency in a mini-crisis as they are in danger of losing their biggest client, McDonald's. In order to turn things around, the elder Roberts pitches returning to a classic Micky D's family togetherness campaign with Clarkson refreshing the jingle. Hijinks ensue. As mentioned, the pilot has a certain amount of charm as well as a pleasant sweetness, but it never fully takes off. It's well constructed, but not explosively funny, uniquely quirky, or particularly emotionally effective. There's potential for all of those elements to strengthen. As of right now, however, The Crazy Ones doesn't posses the pulsating, vital energy that it hopes to, or of the Apple ad campaign that inspired the title.
The primary issues with the pilot are that, at a shorter than normal length, it feels truncated and incomplete and it has a mixed tone. It's not quite the goofball comedy one might expect nor are the more dramatic elements all that effective. We're not sure if Williams' character is an erratic savant or meant to be actually suffering from some kind of mental impairment. It feels like more of the former, but it's concerning that the distinction was not made clear. His relationship with his daughter is actually quite healthy, which is nice, but doesn't make for great conflict, if that's what the show was hoping to achieve.
By the end of the pilot we should have a grasp on the core of the series. If it's about a wacky but brilliant dad and his harried daughter who's just trying to keep up, fine. If it's about that same dad now suffering a real illness, and his child's attempts to manage that, also okay. Unfortunately, by the time the credits roll, it feels like its been just another day at the office. The end result is that the show feels like a lukewarm bath: okay, but not particularly enticing or satisfying.
Part workplace half-hour, part family dramedy, The Crazy Ones isn't a hysterical comedy in line with the comedic pedigree that Williams brings, nor is it really a family drama. Somewhere in the middle, the show never truly lands on solid ground in the pilot episode. That may change of course, but for now, the series that advocates recapturing the magic of a time gone by, hasn't yet done so.
The Crazy Ones premieres on Thursday, September 26 at 9 PM / 8 PM Central on CBS.