'The Loop,' at last, a smart Fox sitcom
For a change, characters who're actually likable
By Toni Fitzgerald
Mar 15, 2006
It’s been years since Fox launched a sitcom that clicked, and in that time it's become desperate. Each new comedy has been even more outrageous, more edgy, apparently on the theory that the greater the number of lewd jokes, the greater its chance of survival.
Fox has been looking for the next “Married With Children.”
But in all this, Fox seems to have forgotten what made "Married" work as comedy. It wasn’t the raunchy humor or Christina Applegate’s short skirts, though they certainly didn’t hurt. It was the inherent likeability of the lead characters played by Ed O’Neill and Katey Sagal. They were not model citizens, but they were fun, and also quite real.
That certainly has not been the case for Fox’s more recent sitcom leads, from vapid Pam Anderson on “Stacked” to obnoxious Michael Rapaport on “War at Home.”
Now, finally, Fox seems to have come up with a new sitcom that works, "The Loop," which premieres tonight at 9:30 p.m. after “American Idol” before moving to its usual Thursday slot at 8:30 p.m.
"Loop" succeeds because the characters are easy to like. The show also has an intelligent leading man (Bret Harrison), which is a big change for a Fox sitcom. He's earnest without being naïve, and he's exactly the kind of guy who'd be the butt of all the bad jokes on a typical Fox sitcom.
But there’s also something refreshing about the show’s setup. There’s no wacky mom and dad or crazy neighbors or any other terribly worn clichés putting viewers to sleep. There is some sharp writing and genuine energy to the show.
Sam (Harrison) is the first one of his friends to get a so-called real job out of college. He’s by far the youngest executive at an airline company, where his co-workers include a hilariously droll, lecherous older woman (Mimi Rogers) and a cantankerous boss (Phillip Baker Hall).
Sam also has a trio of buddies he hangs out with at home who are stuck in post-college purgatory, toiling at bartending jobs or still in grad school. They want Sam to hang out the way he did before he went corporate, thus giving the show its central conflict, Sam’s struggle to balance his career with his outside life.
The show has been widely panned by critics, notably those of an older generation than the one Fox targets, who don’t get the jokes. In fact, Fox should be applauded for reaching down to Generation Y and putting on a show that its young-skewing viewers can actually relate to, rather than putting on another cookie cutter sitcom. Sam’s contemporaries will likely find they’ve lived through some of the same situations.
That's partly why the show’s producers would be smart to put the focus more on the office and less at home. What emerges in the first two episodes is a smart commentary on office life and what Generation Y’s effect will be on workplace politics.
In the second episode, which is much stronger than the pilot, two of the airline’s older executives present a comically out-of-touch plan to capture young people’s business. This notion of old people trying to be young and hip opens up all sorts of opportunities for humor. The conflict between generations is funny and it works.
Sam’s outside life does not, however. He has a crush on a roommate who sees him as a platonic friend, a classic bad sitcom plight, and the other two roommates lack any depth. Fox would be better off pushing Sam’s home life deep into the background.
Whether the show stands any chance of becoming Fox’s first true sitcom breakout since “Malcolm in the Middle” debuted in 2000 is uncertain. Though tonight’s premiere will get a big tune-in out of “Idol,” viewers may be confused by its quick move to Thursday night.
Anyone who likes the show may simply tune in next Wednesday at 9:30 expecting to find “Loop” and, when they don’t see it on the schedule, figure it was canceled or forget about it.
If “Loop” betters the premiere of “Free Ride,” which averaged a 6.1 rating in adults 18-49 post-"Idol" two weeks ago, perhaps Fox will reconsider shipping it permanently to the Thursday slot. “Loop” deserves a chance to thrive on Wednesday.