GREAT NEWS, which premiered this week with two episodes, was the show I was most looking forward to this year. We may be in the era of Peak TV, but one thing I’ve felt was missing was a truly funny comedy, especially on network TV. You can keep your dystopian dramas, sci-fi mysteries, relationship studies, and prestige comedies that blur the line between telling jokes and somberly reflecting on life. I just want to laugh and a sitcom executive produced by Tina Fey, created by Tracey Wigfield, a writer on two of my favorite shows, 30 Rock and The Mindy Project, and starring the great Andrea Martin of SCTV fame seems exactly the thing to make that happen.
Did these first two episodes live up to my very high expectations? For the most part, yes. The humor is more silly than sharp and not every joke lands, but in the vein of its predecessor 30 Rock, the jokes are delivered rapid-fire. If you don’t laugh at the first one, there’s a good chance you’ll laugh at the next one. The show centers on Katie (Briga Heelan), a news producer whose struggle to be taken seriously by her superiors at The Breakdown, an afternoon cable news show, is complicated when her overbearing mother Carol (Martin) becomes an intern there. The 30 Rock comparisons are inevitable–in addition to the TV show setting, the character of Portia (Nicole Richie), the vapid millennial co-anchor whose story pitches include “Am I Snapchatting My Vacation Wrong?”, could be a younger Jenna Maroney–but while the workplace may be dysfunctional, the series is grounded by the genuine affection between Katie and Carol.
The overbearing, meddling mother is a sitcom trope that’s been around almost since the beginning of TV itself, but Katie loves and needs her mom. The pilot opens with the two of them talking on the phone while Katie is on her way to work–Carol relaying the hilarious events of a birthday party the night before, where both she and Other Carol bought the same top from Chico’s as a gift. You can tell from the way Katie actually listens to her and guesses the ending of the anecdote that these two are close. There’s a funny running gag throughout the show that the audience never sees Carol’s husband Dave–he’s in scenes, but we never see his face. Carol may be married, but her one true love is her daughter.
Carol’s meddling and unconditional support has left Katie unable to truly make it on her own as an adult. Here’s my one issue with the show–Katie’s boss Greg (Adam Campbell) tells Katie that he’s reluctant to give her lead segments to produce because she’s someone who can’t do something without expecting praise. It’s a trait older generations often accuse millennials of having, but in the case of Katie, it seems to be true. Katie’s reliance on her mother has left her a semi-functioning adult who needs to be constantly told that she’s doing a good job and she’s on the right path. It’s not the most fun character type to spend time with, but at the end of the second episode, after watching her daughter try and miserably fail at riding a bike by herself, Carol realizes that she needs to let her be a bit more independent. Hopefully some of Katie’s more irritating character traits will be smoothed out as the series goes on.
Luckily, the rest of the cast is great, especially John Michael Higgins as Chuck Pierce, the other co-anchor. His blustery, pompous newsman isn’t the most original character, but he absolutely nails the role. He’s the reason Carol is hired in the first place–she’s the only one who can put him in his place and hiring an older person was Greg’s way of showing Chuck that he respects seniority and experience. The scene that had me laughing the hardest last night was a scene where Chuck attempts some friendly banter with Portia. Another program, The Chip and Chet Report, is beating them in the ratings. Audiences love the fact that Chip and Chet are best friends–Pope Francis even blessed their friendship. Chuck has nothing in common with Portia, so Greg tells him to treat it like an interview. Chuck grills her about what she did the night before, causing her to burst into tears and admit to shoplifting from Duane Reade.
Nicole Richie as Portia may have been an unexpected choice–she’s more known for her reality TV work–but she has comedic chops and is a perfect foil for Chuck. Horatio Sanz as Justin, an editor whose Katie’s friend at work, is also funny, but it’s a muted performance, possibly because his character seems the most grounded of the lot. Tracey Wigfield herself has a role as a truly deranged meteorologist–she’s a character that could have fit perfectly into the absurd world of 30 Rock. Adam Campbell, who viewers might recognize from another Tina Fey-produced show, The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, is great and one of the funniest jokes of the episode was at his expense. After he tells Portia and Chuck that he has bad news, Chuck replies, “Oh no, did the Geppetto that made you pass away?”
The pilot is about setting up the general premise–Carol decides to intern at The Breakdown after her best friend, Other Carol, passes away. She decides to follow the advice of the pastor at the funeral and follow her dreams, the same advice that gets Katie to ask Greg for more responsibility at work. The second episode shows us what Carol and Katie working together will look like. Katie’s excited to produce a segment on an escaped bear in Central Park, but Carol tries to sabotage the assignment because she’s scared Katie will get hurt. Greg looking for Katie to get her to sign a “standard maim and dismemberment form, the kind that Ron signed before he died”, certainly doesn’t help. Carol decides to try to let go a bit more after she realizes her overbearingness might have prevented Katie from truly growing up.
Overall, it’s a strong start that establishes the characters’ relationship dynamics and the show’s comedic point of view. And I can’t say it enough–John Michael Higgins is absolutely hilarious. This is the perfect role for him and it’s a great showcase for Andrea Martin, whose reaction shots are one of the highlights. A programming note: NBC ordered ten episodes of this show and has decided to show two a week until it’s over. It’s a decision that could be interpreted as the network burning off the show, implying a lack of confidence. It’s an odd decision, especially after the network passed on the critically acclaimed, successful Kimmy Schmidt. Hopefully Great News can still find an audience despite its unorthodox release, as Great News has the potential to be a great show.
Season 1, Episode 01-02 (S01E01-02)
Great News airs Tuesdays at 900PM on NBC
Jennifer Trofa | Contributor