There are two separate gags in The Mick’s pilot episode that end with a child’s face covered in blood. The first is a harmless nosebleed; the second results from the pounding of a lifetime that’s visited upon Chip Pemberton (Thomas Barbusca) after his aunt Mickey (Kaitlin Olson) suggests pantsing a bully and ridiculing his penis. If a pilot is a statement of purpose, then The Mick’s purpose is comic outrageousness, a gentler variation of the kind that Olson has stirred up for 11 seasons (and booked through a record-tying 14th) on It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia. (Mick creators John and Dave Chernin are co-executive producers on Sunny.) Seen elsewhere in the episode: light shoplifting, a heavily stained wedding dress, shattered objects aplenty, and drastic bodily harm visited upon the main character.
It’s as if Uncle Buck (John Candy edition) stumbled out of Paddy’s Pub and into the Kardashians’ house. Black sheep Mickey—Mackenzie if you’re nasty, or if she owes you money—shows up at her estranged sister’s palatial estate just in time for sis and her sugar-daddy husband to be carted off by the feds. Their white-collar indiscretions make Mickey the accidental guardian to her niece and two nephews, who don’t immediately embrace the idea of being looked after by a woman who freely admits “I cannot count the number of times I’ve been ripped off a barstool and thrown in a cage.” There’s Sabrina, the eldest, a good student and budding activist whose social life is one of Skins/Gossip Girl-style debauchery—played by Skins (MTV edition) and Gossip Girl alum Sofia Black-D’Elia. Middle child Chip is aptly named, in terms of “off the old block” and “on his shoulder,” while youngest Ben (Jack Stanton) is around to suffer the gravest consequences of Mickey’s negligence.
In porting FX house style—the handheld camerawork, loose structure, and envelope-pushing humor—to the Fox mothership, The Mick projects a resistance to the “They might wind up teaching her more than she teaches them” elements of its premise. There are deeply traditional bones within this show—fish, meet water, then get out of it—but the way the three episodes screened for critics are cut together and paced feels fresh in a network setting. It’s never going to go as far or get as gross as Olson’s primary TV gig, but she still appears at home among this tampered extremity. She’s been the most undervalued player in Sunny’s core quintet for more than a decade, so she’s more than earned a new vehicle for her limb-flailing and eye-bugging—both of which play well within the lavish broadness of The Mick.
Olson’s bounty of personality aside, Mickey herself feels a bit empty at this point, a Mary Poppins with a carpetbag full of birth control who’s no more well-rounded than her sidekicks in this endeavor, similarly lowlife boyfriend Jimmy (Scott MacArthur) and Pemberton housekeeper Alba (Carla Jimenez). The show appears most confident in Sabrina, possibly because she’s written in a way that combines elements of other shows’ winning teens: She has all the overachieving anxiety of a Blair Waldorf combined with the bad attitude and speech patterns of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’s Xan and the libertine/activist yin-and-yang of Better Things’ Max and Frankie. Barbusca has less to go on, but the Wet Hot American Summer: First Day Of Camp scene stealer proves here that he’s more than a millennial Billy Zabka, absolutely killing it in one B-story that strands him on a galloping pony for most of an episode.
That’s the sort of stupidly simple (and/or simply stupid) gag that requires the bare minimum of characterization to land, which The Mick does, with a healthy dose of high-pitched screaming from Barbusca. (Keep the volume low when you watch The Mick—the neighbors across the street will thank you.) Almost all of Chip’s interactions with Mickey find him riding a high horse, so it just works to see him get his comeuppance on the back of a very short horse. In a quality that’s increasingly rare for Olson’s cable home, The Mick prizes laughter above all—the petty sniping between kids and adults inspiring chuckles, the more elaborate and destructive set pieces going for gasps and belly laughs. When a sitcom knows its voice and sense of humor this early, growth and development can come along later. Or not: Hanging outlandish scenarios and devastating injuries on The Gang’s loose collection of pathological personality types has proven fruitful for It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia. The Mick has a long way to go to replicate Sunny’s stamina, but it’s already mimicking its way with a head wound.
Reviews by Sulagna Misra will run weekly.