The return of two TV icons – Robin Williams (Mork & Mindy) and Sarah Michelle Gellar (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) – should’ve been an event to celebrate. Unfortunately, The Crazy Ones overuses Williams and underuses Gellar and the result is a tepid, by-the-numbers sitcom from legendary TV exec David E. Kelly (Picket Fences, The Practice, Boston Legal), who dives into his bag of David E. Kelly clichés and litters them throughout the series.
Williams stars as Simon Roberts, a brilliant ad man with a reputation of being able to sell anything. He runs a successful Chicago ad agency, Roberts & Roberts, with his daughter, Sydney (Gellar), an uptight workaholic who is on hand to reign in her extravagant pop. In the premier episode the agency is in danger of losing its biggest client, McDonald’s, and so the klatch of ad execs – including Andrew Keanelly (Hamish Linklater) and Zach Cropper (James Wolk) – all turn to Simon to save the day. The meeting is attended by one of Kelly’s patented sexy, mature, ball-busting women (Sharon Lawrence), who gives the agency one last chance to save the account: the catch is that Simon promised a big name pop star to star in the commercial. Enter Kelly Clarkson, who plays a rather prickly version of herself, who initially balks at the offer of hawking Big Macs and shakes, until Simon and Zach promise her to tart up the campaign, to go with her new sexy public image.
And as required in a David E. Kelly production, the stakes are raised, the older vet questions his relevance, before being vindicated in the end. It’s all formulaic and predictable, and feels picked over like stale leftovers. But all of this could be forgivable if it weren’t for the terrible ways that two such bright and talented performers like Williams and Gellar are misused in this show.
It has to be said that Williams is an acquired taste, and even if one is a fan, a little bit of him goes a very, very long way. Unfortunately, Kelly and the episode’s director, Jason Winer, encourage Williams to indulge in some of his worst instincts as an actor and comedian. Instead of giving him some kind of logical framework to showcase his manic style of comedy – the rambling, the funny voices, the tangents and non sequiturs – Kelly is content on just pointing a camera on Williams and letting him go. Again and again. This kind of grotesque mugging gets tired very quickly, and it’s exhausting to see him go through his paces, while it feels like the other actors are just waiting, squirming on the peripheral, until he’s satisfied himself. He also seems to have watched too many episodes of Kelly’s Boston Legal, and has swiped a lot of William Shatner’s schtick, hoping to achieve similar success.
But if Williams is just too much, the Gellar is not enough – as seen with her work on Buffy, she’s a startling presence on-screen – and though she isn’t known for her comic chops, she doesn’t get a chance to show off any on this show. Instead she’s miscast as the schoolmarmish daughter who is constantly shaking her head in frustration at disapproving of everything around her. The one moment of comedy she does get, when a mean girl Kelly Clarkson insists she sing the proposed McDonald’s jingle in a crowded restaurant, gets snatched away from her when the pop star pushes in with the kind of soulful wail that got her on American Idol in the first place. Gellar is unappealing when she’s brittle and dour, and she comes off as a humorless grump.
And even though this is an obvious star vehicle for its legendary star, The Crazy Ones pretends to be an ensemble piece – and Kelly has populated the office of Roberts & Roberts with his favorite kind of professionals: the womanizer (Zach), the free-spirited cut-up (Andrew), and Amanda Setton has the unfortunate task of playing the office hottie who’s only contribution to the premiere episode was offering Simon to sniff her hair.
It’s obvious that Kelly is working on auto-pilot in his latest series. It feels like the show’s following a template that includes all of his trademarks: quick, music-video style cuts; beautiful leggy women; handsome leering men; the aging eccentric and his protegé; rat-a-tat-tat dialogue that wants to be reminiscent of a Howard Hawks screwball comedy. None of these things which seemed worked well lin his other shows translate to this program because audiences have seen it all before (I’m expecting James Spader or Candice Bergen to wander into the office).
It’s clear that Williams and Gellar both could flourish and thrive on television if given proper material. Instead they’re saddled with this moldy junk that won’t even be mistaken for camp. And even though we’re meant to like Wolk, so effective as creepy Bob on Mad Men, here is merely comes off as smarmy and trying to hard to keep up with Williams’ antics. The only breath of fresh air in this mess is Linklater, a quirky actor with a wonderful sense of comic timing, who does bring some charm into his scenes. And given the stench of staleness that wafts over this show, any bit of relief is greatly needed.