Andrea Martin—with her big eyes and the way she contorts her mouth—makes a meal out of reaction shots. Her very oohs and ahhs are like a symphony of funny, and they get glorious play in the big-hearted sitcom Great News.
Created by former 30 Rock and The Mindy Project writer Tracey Wigfield—who won an Emmy for the former’s “Last Lunch”—the series has its executive producers Tina Fey and Robert Carlock’s stamp all over it. From the bright color palette to the jaunty incidental music, it feels like it exists in the same universe that Tracy Jordan and Kimmy Schmidt occupy. Wigfield leads her writers’ room with the same eye for sharp characterization and love of fast-flying gags (be they verbal or sight) as her mentors do. Couple that with a talented cast, and it’s clear to see why Great News is immediately such a winner.
The central pitch is simple: What happens when your mom starts showing up at your job? Such a fate befalls Briga Heelan’s Katie, an unappreciated producer at The Breakdown, a cable news program. Her mother Carol (the marvelous Martin) decides to go back to school and get a credited internship at her daughter’s workplace. The “annoying parent” trope is not an unexplored one in the annals of TV comedy, but Wigfield deliciously subverts it in the pilot’s opening moments by making it clear that Katie is as attached to Carol as Carol is to her. These two are sweetly—if somewhat unhealthily—codependent. Sure, early episodes find Katie attempting to sabotage Carol’s employment and Carol trying to prevent Katie from working on a potentially dangerous story, but the show gets more glorious when it leans into their symbiotic zaniness.
Bona fide legend Martin plays Carol with a madcap touch that simultaneously brims with warmth. But Heelan matches Martin’s wild energy, and infuses her portrayal with an undercurrent of insecurity. They make an excellent pair, but each has a male counterpart with whom she has even better chemistry. For Martin, that’s Christopher Guest ensemble member John Michael Higgins, who puts his spin on the requisite Ted Baxter character, Chuck Pierce, an anchor with an inflated ego. Carol is the only person he trusts in the newsroom, so they become confidantes, their egos bouncing off on another. Meanwhile, Katie establishes a delicious—and in her case possibly romantic—rapport with executive producer Greg (Adam Campbell). Fey and Carlock have an eye for Campbell’s suspicion-inducing charms, and they used him well in Kimmy Schmidt. Here, he transforms what could be a rote opportunity to make fun of British people into a compelling potential love story.
Aside from that quintessential foursome, Nicole Richie occupies the role that would otherwise belong to Jane Krakowski as an impossibly hip co-anchor. Only Saturday Night Live alum Horatio Sanz is given little to do as the genial if slobby editor.
Over the course of the 10 episodes that make up the first season, Great News eases from problem-of-the-week installments into an overarching storyline that lends it some momentum in its latter half. But its pleasures don’t come from narrative structure, exactly. Instead the joy is found in seemingly random but still hilarious lines—”CNN’s just playing Death Becomes Her”—and the way jokes can subtly define character. What may seem like a throwaway reference in one episode can turn into a plot point in another. (See, for instance, Carol’s love of catfishing on Facebook.) Not to mention a wildly clever visual humor that persistently tickles.
It’s only a shame then NBC seems to be burying Great News midseason and airing two episodes each week in an attempt to put out the first season as quickly as possible. Combined with the likes of The Good Place, The Carmichael Show, and Superstore, the network is slowly building a fantastic stable of comedies once again.