Put Robin Williams on a TV show, and the assumption may be that it almost doesn't matter who you put around him because he's such a big personality, he's going to suck most of the attention and energy in for himself. Williams' usual brand of humor is certainly aggressive, and on CBS' The Crazy Ones he is still very much that big personality that speaks fast and requires everyone else to speak faster just to get a word in edgewise. But The Crazy Ones proves that if you surround Williams with actors who all shine in their own niches as he does with big, broad comedy, they will feed off of him, and that transfer of energy may actually even things out nicely. But it won't happen immediately, and The Crazy Ones does prove it needs time to find a comfortable rhythm-- for the audience as well as the actors.
At times the rapid fire nature of The Crazy Ones' dialogue feels a little forced and not entirely natural as actors struggle to adjust to the pace of this new show. James Wolk in particular isn't a guy to whom this vibe comes naturally, but he doesn't let being slightly out of his comfort zone completely overshadow is usual leading-man-in-the-making charm. When he, Sarah Michelle Gellar, and/or Hamish Linklater go toe-to-toe with Williams in scenes, they surprisingly don't get steamrolled, even though they are all much more grounded and muted, especially by comparison. The Crazy Ones is still very much "The Robin Williams Show" in its pilot stage, though, spending more time letting him riff than getting to know some of these other people outside of their relationships to and with him.
Although Gellar is clearly the second lead on this show, the pilot episode actually spends more time focusing on guest star Kelly Clarkson than Gellar (or anyone other than Williams). Clarkson clearly was game to make fun of herself-- even singing a memorably raunchy single with Wolk-- but she is not a part of the show as it continues on from that launch point. Because of this, The Crazy Ones as a stand-alone episode is strong, even if a bit hammy at times, but so much prime second and third act real estate is devoted to a one-off character, I didn't really get the sense that I knew what The Crazy Ones would be week to week. For that, I admit I removed one full star from this review. Will the subsequent episodes filter various guest stars into that same front and center format, or was this an anomaly that means future episodes will focus more on the team that carries over from week to week?
Gellar was always most fun when she embraced the goofy and silly sides of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and here she gets to revel in the lighter side to things and spend at least one moment paying homage while still poking a little more fun at that earlier attempt at comedy, but more than not she reverts to a more childish voice to hit the comedic beats, rather than focus on timing or content. At times Gellar does come across more as a potential mistress than a daughter to Williams, too, which is jarring and just the wrong kind of creepy, but that might just be because the show is a workplace comedy, and that means only certain points about their relationship can be organically explored in such an environment, especially this early in the game.
This particular workplace is a high-end advertising firm, and the snazzy, well-lit, and extremely modern sets seems to be The Crazy Ones' way of combating any assumptions about that world that Mad Men has set forth. There is an exceptionally sleek look to the show, so it's easy to see why clients get swept up in it, even when Williams' character is doing all the old voices in the comedian's repertoire. When it's all bright, shiny, and new, it's easy to be willing to be swept along for such a ride. The actors clearly were during the process of shooting this pilot, and the audience should be while watching it. But over time, such theatrics often take a turn and end up being more grating and endearing. It obviously remains to be seen whether that will be the case for The Crazy Ones, but in moderation it should prove to be a very fun break from countless other, all similar offerings. And the good news, though, is that all of the characters around him who are going on past the pilot are all ones I want to see more from, so at least, even with the uncertainty, the show sparked something for which it's worth tuning back in.
The Crazy Ones premieres on CBS on September 26 2013 at 9 p.m.
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