The Writer’s Room is Not Sacred

An elitist TV professional’s false vision of sitcom paradise: How ‘Reboot’ jumped the rail

The recently-concluded first and hopefully only season of the Hulu comedy Reboot began with an excellent premise. A lesbian indie filmmaker (played by Rachel Bloom) who has to her credit a Sundance movie called “Cunt Saw,” pitches an updated version of a cheesy early-2000s network sitcom called “Step Right Up.” To her great surprise, Hulu bites on the idea immediately, because reboots of old shows are hot and the show has a surprising number of young fans. But after a couple of episodes where it circles around being a biting satire of sitcoms, Reboot quickly settles into its true form of a maudlin, self-congratulatory, and only occasionally funny show about the industry it purports to satirize.

The biggest problem is that the show’s creator is Steven Levitan, one of the minds behind Modern Family, one of the smuggest, most self-satisfied comedies in network TV history. Modern Family’s single-camera documentary style had the patina of quality: good actors, well-constructed scripts with payoffs, the progressive inclusion of a gay married couple. But in the end it couldn’t get away from the fact that it was about rich people living in L.A. who didn’t actually have any real problems.

Reboot flows in the same direction. It turns out that Rachel Bloom’s character is the daughter of the original show’s creator, and he is played by Paul Reiser. Both Bloom and Reiser are pros. They have good, believable chemistry, and know how to land a punchline. But in the end the show is just a fantasy about Boomers and millennials overcoming their differences to create sitcom magic.

Reiser brings in a veritable Borscht Belt of old-school sitcom writers, while Bloom brings in a woke rainbow of cohorts. They bicker for a bit but quickly start trading effective barbs. Reboot spends half its time in the writer’s room, and the banter is engaging enough, mostly jokes about angina or ordering lunch. We don’t see a lot of the writers actually creating, and what they are creating isn’t very interesting or funny. Hulu executives keep telling them how brilliant and original the Step Right Up reboot is, but to an outside eye, it just seems like another hacky sitcom.

At one point, one of the Borscht Belt writers, whose gimmick is that she used to have sex with Erik Estrada and other leading lights of early 80s TV, tells the show’s female star, played by Judy Greer, that the “writer’s room is sacred.” First of all, to whom is it sacred? No. It is absolutely not sacred. Maybe to Steven Levitan it is. Then again, it’s made him very rich, so why wouldn’t it be?

Parody of hacky sitcoms is an art in itself. Nothing Reboot could ever dream of doing would be better than Too Many Cooks. Or the Seinfeld reboot season of Curb Your Enthusiasm, or the most recent season, where Larry David struggles to make his “Young Larry” show a reality. The new season of Documentary Now! leads with a two-part episode that imagines a Werner Herzog-like character trying to film a CBS pilot called Bachelor Nanny while also making a documentary about tribal life on the harsh steppes of Siberia.

Now that is how you do a sitcom parody. Alexander Skarsgard and August Diehl in ‘Documentary Now.’

And you can’t talk about sitcom reboot parodies without mentioning The Comeback. There have been few TV characters more pathetic than Lisa Kudrow’s Valerie Cherish, a former hot young sitcom star forced to play “Aunt Sassy” on a terrible WB-style sitcom called “Room And Bored.” She is obnoxious, neurotic, and completely self-obsessed, a totally cringey anti-hero. And yet the show still found a way to make us root for her and also land the completely surprise ending of Valerie winning an Emmy for her performance.

On the other hand, Judy Greer’s Bree is obnoxious, neurotic, and completely self-obsessed. And Reboot makes her an adorably quirky middle-aged pixie, discarded by her European royalty husband, unleashed back into sitcom land without even an audition, who sleeps with everyone and chirps her way through every situation. There is no cringe, no shock, just awwwww.

Everyone in Reboot is impossibly rich and privileged. Johnny Knoxville’s character Clay has apparently spent the years since Step Right Up went under doing drugs and doing hookers at Jumbo’s Clown Room and below. And yet after just a few weeks of the reboot, he somehow manages to buy a mid-century modern house that, at minimum, would go for three million dollars on the open market. Levitan couldn’t even begin to understand how impossible that is, because Reboot isn’t actually a parody of sitcoms. It’s a celebration of the people who win the sitcom game. There is no real struggle or failure. It’s an endless, whimsical ride to the top.

The season ends with conflict and cliffhanger, but they aren’t sitcom-related. The show is a hit and everyone loves it. Instead, its characters go through poignant personal struggles while a female-sung version of ‘Everybody Wants To Rule The World’ plays in the background. That’s very cringe on its own, though not deliberately. It’s a modern TV show problem that not even Modern Family had. If the writer’s room is sacred, then the good people who brought us Reboot have created something very, unintentionally, profane.

 You May Also Like

Neal Pollack

Book and Film Globe Editor in Chief Neal Pollack is the author of 12 semi-bestselling books of fiction and nonfiction, including the memoirs Alternadad and Stretch, the novels Repeat and Downward-Facing Death, and the cult classic The Neal Pollack Anthology of American Literature. A Rotten Tomatoes certified reviewer for both film and television, Neal has written articles and humor for every English-language publication except The New Yorker. Neal lives in Austin, Texas, and is a three-time Jeopardy! champion.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *