There’s never been a better time to be a sitcom protagonist with your head in the clouds. Ever since Flight Of The Conchords cracked open the door that Louie blew right off its hinges (leaving poor Andy Richter Controls The Universe to stand by and watch), viewers, networks, and critics have been far more receptive to comedies with big imaginations. Louis C.K.’s eponymous series shares a funhouse-mirror Manhattan with Broad City, while Jay Baruchel treats text messages with the gravity of mutually assured destruction on Man Seeking Woman. It took long enough, but American TV comedy has finally gotten around to learning all of the right lessons from Spaced.
Into this expanded headspace enters Big Time In Hollywood, FL, a show in which Louie-style ambition infects Workaholics-style slackers. From the creators of the similarly surreal web hit Next Time On Lonny, Big Time concerns a pair of brothers (co-creator Alex Anfanger and Nurse Jackie’s Lenny Jacobson) whose filmmaking dreams outpace their filmmaking capabilities. Told by their parents (Kathy Baker and Stephen Tobolowsky) that it’s finally time to move out of the family home, Jack (Anfanger) and Ben (Jacobson) concoct an outrageous scheme to make sure they can keep making movies and live rent-free. By the third act of the pilot, that harebrained plot has already gone screaming off the rails, and the brothers wind up in a deeper hole than the one they started in.
For fans of Lonny, Big Time’s willingness to take an unexpected turn should feel familiar—Anfanger and partner Dan Schimpf have shown that they’re willing and able to twist the most mundane premises into epic genre exercises. The move to a weekly cable platform suits that style well, with Big Time mapping Jack and Ben’s cinematic worldview onto their actual lives. The series opens with the duo playing cops in an orange-and-blue interrogation room, a color scheme mirrored in the duo’s first encounter with genuine law-enforcement agents. The concept is sound, and definitively stated: These are men-children whose contact with the world outside their bedroom is conducted only through a movie screen. Any time spent in the wider world is either shoved through that cinematic filter or logged as “research” for future projects. To put it in the terms of a similarly minded character, Jack and Ben are each an Abed Nadir without the grounding, humanizing counterbalance of a Troy Barnes.
At this early juncture, that’s Big Time In Hollywood, FL’s biggest flaw. Its main characters are filmmaking sponges, but they don’t have much personality to call their own. Jack is conniving, and Anfanger invests the character with a wild-eyed intensity, but he and the sibling he convincingly passes off as a recently hooked drug addict are each a blank slate. This is sure to change as the series proceeds, but Anfanger and Jacobson are playing the least exciting parts of an exciting series. These personas appear formed out of the rightly held belief that Step Brothers is Will Ferrell and Adam McKay’s crowning big-screen achievement, but they’ve yet to have their character-defining “Name your favorite dinosaur” moment.
That blankness also makes the brothers malleable enough for any number of future genre molds they may encounter. Big Time In Hollywood, FL is a big swing for Comedy Central, with high aspirations in terms of visual presentation and storytelling. The network has billed Big Time as its “first serialized comedy”—a mighty tall order, and one that ignores the intricate, multifaceted continuity of Review or the recently concluded Kroll Show. But Big Time In Hollywood, FL’s ability to tell an engaging, cohesive, and surprising story will be where Jack and Ben distinguish themselves from their compatriots in flights of fancy. Based on the pilot (and Next Time On Lonny), Anfanger and Schimpf have surprise down—now they just have to string their surprises together.