FOX Broadcasting Co.
The general consensus on The Crazy Ones is that the show is all right. It's okay. It's not bad. The issue with those statements is that the show — created by David E. Kelley and starring Robin Williams and Sarah Michelle Gellar — has the components to be more than that. Robin Williams! Buffy! The guy who created Ally McBeal and Picket Fences! Having a group that talented working on a project should equal more than a collective shoulder shrug from the viewing audience. Basically, the outtakes that run over the end credits shouldn't be the funniest part of the show.
Luckily, the show is only halfway through its first season so there's still time for it to grow and realize its unfulfilled potential. The key for all involved is to get a little crazier. By embracing the cray-cray, Kelley could have something special instead of something merely pleasant.
Set Robin Free
Williams' character in the show, advertising executive Simon Roberts, is supposed to be a little bit like the real-life older and wiser actor. But there's no reason that Simon has to adhere that closely to the Williams of recent years' responsible lifestyle. Williams is at his best when he's manic, not when he's reserved. Simon needs to be put in situations where Williams can be unleashed and bounce around. Neither Kelley nor Williams have to sacrifice the gravitas entirely… the show just needs more Good Morning, Vietnam, and less Patch Adams.
Buffy Meets Ally
Gellar as Simon's daughter Sydney is your run-of-the-mill stick in the mud. She's boring, and that's boring to watch. Kelley needs look no further than his own creative background to find the answer. The show might need Gellar to play the straight arrow center but that doesn't mean that she has to be dull. Spike in a little of Ally McBeal's whimsy and see what happens. Having her become obsessed with a video game was a good start, but there needs to be more of that. After all, she's supposed to be Robin Williams' daughter… how stiff could she possibly be?
Bring in New Playmates
It genuinely seems like Williams likes his young cast mates. It also seems like he's stuck being the old man and that's not fun. While it's not perfect, Williams perks up when Brad Garrett shows up occasionally as his business partner. Now, Williams needs a friend or two at his own level to come play with him. Having Pam Dawber, the former Mindy to Williams' Mork, guest star is cute, but she's not really a comedy equal. Bobcat Goldthwait, Christine Baranski, Nathan Lane, Martin Short, Bill Irwin, Bonnie Hunt… there are a number of former costars or friends that could pop in and provide a spark for Williams. (Just as long as none of them are named Billy Crystal.)
Lose the Romance, Increase the Bromance
The show's supporting players — Hamish Linklater, James Wolk, and Amanda Setton — have proven to be more than capable, but the romantic subplots bog things down. Linklater's Andrew has a crush on Sydney. Wolk's Zach and Setton's Lauren are friends with benefits. None of it really works. If there are to be love interests, let them come from outside of the ensemble, but it needs to stop hindering workplace comedy. What does work, however, is the byplay between Linklater and Wolk, especially when Williams is involved. Whether he's working with them or playing them against each other, Williams' appears to have the most fun when he plays scenes with the two young guys. If storylines that pair Williams with his male counterparts helps him unleash his id, do more of it. After all, when it comes to The Crazy Ones, the crazier the better.
Lions Gate via Everett Collection
When we last left our heroes, they had conquered all opponents in the 74th Annual Hunger Games, returned home to their newly refurbished living quarters in District 12, and fallen haplessly to the cannibalism of PTSD. And now we're back! Hitching our wagons once again to laconic Katniss Everdeen and her sweet-natured, just-for-the-camera boyfriend Peeta Mellark as they gear up for a second go at the Capitol's killing fields.
But hold your horses — there's a good hour and a half before we step back into the arena. However, the time spent with Katniss and Peeta before the announcement that they'll be competing again for the ceremonial Quarter Quell does not drag. In fact, it's got some of the film franchise's most interesting commentary about celebrity, reality television, and the media so far, well outweighing the merit of The Hunger Games' satire on the subject matter by having Katniss struggle with her responsibilities as Panem's idol. Does she abide by the command of status quo, delighting in the public's applause for her and keeping them complacently saturated with her smiles and curtsies? Or does Katniss hold three fingers high in opposition to the machine into which she has been thrown? It's a quarrel that the real Jennifer Lawrence would handle with a castigation of the media and a joke about sandwiches, or something... but her stakes are, admittedly, much lower. Harvey Weinstein isn't threatening to kill her secret boyfriend.
Through this chapter, Katniss also grapples with a more personal warfare: her devotion to Gale (despite her inability to commit to the idea of love) and her family, her complicated, moralistic affection for Peeta, her remorse over losing Rue, and her agonizing desire to flee the eye of the public and the Capitol. Oftentimes, Katniss' depression and guilty conscience transcends the bounds of sappy. Her soap opera scenes with a soot-covered Gale really push the limits, saved if only by the undeniable grace and charisma of star Lawrence at every step along the way of this film. So it's sappy, but never too sappy.
In fact, Catching Fire is a masterpiece of pushing limits as far as they'll extend before the point of diminishing returns. Director Francis Lawrence maintains an ambiance that lends to emotional investment but never imposes too much realism as to drip into territories of grit. All of Catching Fire lives in a dreamlike state, a stark contrast to Hunger Games' guttural, grimacing quality that robbed it of the life force Suzanne Collins pumped into her first novel.
Once we get to the thunderdome, our engines are effectively revved for the "fun part." Katniss, Peeta, and their array of allies and enemies traverse a nightmare course that seems perfectly suited for a videogame spin-off. At this point, we've spent just enough time with the secondary characters to grow a bit fond of them — deliberately obnoxious Finnick, jarringly provocative Johanna, offbeat geeks Beedee and Wiress — but not quite enough to dissolve the mystery surrounding any of them or their true intentions (which become more and more enigmatic as the film progresses). We only need adhere to Katniss and Peeta once tossed in the pit of doom that is the 75th Hunger Games arena, but finding real characters in the other tributes makes for a far more fun round of extreme manhunt.
But Catching Fire doesn't vie for anything particularly grand. It entertains and engages, having fun with and anchoring weight to its characters and circumstances, but stays within the expected confines of what a Hunger Games movie can be. It's a good one, but without shooting for succinctly interesting or surprising work with Katniss and her relationships or taking a stab at anything but the obvious in terms of sending up the militant tyrannical autocracy, it never even closes in on the possibility of being a great one.
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