Tracey Wigfield’s new sitcom Great News, about a news producer (Briga Heelan) who struggles with her sweet-hearted helicopter mom’s (Andrea Martin) decision to become her intern, has all the necessary ingredients to become… well, great. It has a flexible world, a game supporting cast that each harbors their own comedic strengths, a strong central conflict (mother/daughter, old/young), and most importantly, a quick-fire sense of humor. The series’ 30 Rock pedigree—Wigfield worked on the show from the second season, and both Tina Fey and Robert Carlock serve as executive producers—might unfairly inflate expectations this early on, but Great News has demonstrated that it’s willing to go the distance.
Make no mistake: That doesn’t inherently mean it will go the distance. Granted, it’s only been two episodes, and sitcoms usually take some time to find their rhythm, but Great News still feels rough around the edges, especially with the main Katie-Carol dynamic. Martin’s comedic chops aside, Wigfield and co. lean hard on Carol’s kooky, befuddled personality for comedy, and it’s already pushing up against its own inherent limitations. Heelan has effective comedic timing, especially when she’s playing off Adam Campbell’s condescending, exhausted Greg, but Katie has yet to move beyond a certain “Ugh, mom!” acting mode that will inevitably begin to grate. I suspect that these issues will be addressed or ironed out in the coming weeks, and hopefully in future seasons (knock on wood). Nevertheless, they are still present.
While the back-to-back episodes this week aren’t stellar, they do suggest an interesting future path, one that’s not afraid to go into odder, wackier directions. Both “Chuck Pierce Is Blind” and “War Is Hell” have warmed-over A-plots—Carol feels insecure about her age when she can’t keep up with her intern duties, and Katie worries that Carol will get in her head about her boyfriend-of-the-week Trip (Tommy Dewey of Casual)—but they also contain B-plots that feature snappy writing and imaginative production design/set-pieces.
“Chuck Pierce Is Blind” is the weaker of the two episodes simply because “Carol is old and doesn’t get it” already feels like a pretty stale premise for an episode, especially when the end game is believing in yourself and realizing everyone makes mistakes. That aside, it’s a pretty solid showcase for longtime funny guy John Michael Higgins, including but not limited to his drowsy ramblings in Carol’s car and the sight-gag of his post-surgery eyes on air.
However, the best part of the episode is Greg’s “chickens coming home to roost” plot where he struggles with all of his delayed promises to the staff when Chuck decides to take the day off. Portia wants to do the show without a desk to show off her legs, a tip from her mentor Roger Ailes. Justin wants to change the opening credits. Beth wants to do her doomsday climate change rant on air, which made the mayor throw up on Earth Day. There’s a scat-capella group doing the music. There’s a guy dressed as Abraham Lincoln for unexplained reasons. In other words, it’s a cornucopia of mildly weird visual comedy and go-for-broke set design. It’s not amazing, and some of the shtick is tired, but it nevertheless suggests good things going forward.
“War Is Hell” has the better A-plot precisely simply because it gives Heelan more to do than flounder and politely chastise Martin. Though the “[character] got in my head!” episode is a sitcom staple at this point, Heelan has fun with it as she struggles to realize that her mother didn’t implant her belief that her boyfriend is silly and dumb. But again, the B-plot involving Chuck’s fear about going into the field and Greg and Justin’s comeuppance kills precisely because it goes into some madcap territory, particularly the scene when Chuck throws fireworks at them in the studio and the subsequent HR meeting. Wigfield also includes a running gag about a soap opera that provides Carol with ideas for her schemes, such as becoming an intern at her daughter’s work, that once again indicates there will be more gags like that in the future.
A sitcom in its early stages is as much about what’s on screen as it is about its future potential. These two episodes improve on last week’s opening gambit, and there’s no reason to believe that won’t continue. Great News has potential in spades, and as long both audiences and NBC give it the time it needs to develop, there’s no telling where it will go.
- I like that Wigfield never pretends that The Breakdown isn’t kind of a joke already, evidence by Katie’s pump-up speech to Greg: “You are the executive producer of the number two rated four o’ clock cable news hour in the entire country, not counting the south Midwest or the top parts.”
- Chuck believes that hotshot newsmen drink sriracha and eat Lululemon.
- Carol’s new perfume is Bombay Thanksgiving.
- Best gag of the week? The two workers practicing carrying a huge sheet of glass.
- “That’s because in the movies the villains all have British accents. Even the Nazis. How is that fair?”
- “You brought me a script yesterday. It had clearly gone through a washing machine.”
- “He wrote in a Peace Sign for President. What if it had won? Who would write the laws?”
- “You got scared last SantaCon because you thought it was the purge.”
- “He got so mad, like my grandma when we took her car from her. Why didn’t we wait until she got home? We just…left her in that field.”