Fans of Jillian Bell’s supporting turn as endearingly weird office factotum Jillian Belk on Workaholics will find Idiotsitter a comfortably familiar companion piece. Like Workaholics, Idiotsitter rests on its stars’ facility with loose, improv-heavy riffing in the midst of thoroughly disreputable and juvenile shenanigans. Expanded from a webseries of the same name (created by Bell and co-star Charlotte Newhouse), the series has a higher-concept premise than Workaholics, but partakes, at least in the pilot, of the same slobbish, crude hangout vibe.
Also like Workaholics, Idiotsitter’s appeal will depend on just how in tune you are with the stars’ personae. Luckily, Bell and Newhouse, apart from sharing the easy, flowing chemistry of performers clearly comfortable with each others’ voices, are engaging comics in their own right. Newhouse plays Billie, a straitlaced would-be academic who, plagued by unemployment and hectoring college loan people, accepts a job caring for and tutoring the troublesome 7-year-old daughter of millionaire Kent (Stephen Root). To her understandable bafflement, she’s then introduced to her actual charge in the form of Bell’s Gene, a 30-ish womanchild first seen swilling from an economy-sized booze bottle on a stolen pony and propositioning a pair of cops. Sporting a court-mandated ankle bracelet and an oversize sweatshirt with the word “Dong” on it (complete with crotch-pointing arrow), Gene is a hard-partying, unschooled, impulse-driven layabout, who immediately takes a shine to the aghast Billie (once she’s pawed Billie’s genitals to rule out “a Mrs. Doubtfire situation”). Billie, after running away as fast as her junker of a car will go, reconsiders once she opens the piece of paper containing an absurdly lavish salary offer.
So, premise established, as Gene persuades her new minder to allow her to have a few friends over once Kent and trophy wife Tanzy (Jennifer Elise Cox) immediately jet off to Tokyo for a few days. Predictably, this results in a drug- and booze-fueled blowout where Billie runs around frantically picking up plastic cups and being copiously vomited upon while Bell careens around her father’s lavish home accompanied by hulking, handsy pal Chet (Steve Berg), who fixates on Billie.
The familiar setup offers a glimpse of the sort of humor viewers can expect—Newhouse looking flustered, Bell being outrageous—but the pilot endearingly spins in a couple of promising directions simultaneously. For one thing, Gene is a lot more likeable than her description makes her sound, partaking as she does of Bell’s unique, off-center comic intensity. She has a gift for imbuing her characters with hints of a mercurially unknowable interior life—when Gene’s whims are thwarted, Bell has a way of making her eyes go black in the center of her mobile face that’s both hilarious and a little unsettling. Gene’s been living a coddled life thanks to her father’s blithe largesse (Root’s signature smiling, glad-handing menace is perfect), but Bell gives out tiny flashes of Gene’s loneliness, too. When Kent, fleeing the grounds in his limo, gives an “air hug” to Gene (whose beeping anklet won’t let her get any closer) instead of getting out of the car, Bell registers the merest hint of what’s going on inside the pampered rich girl, responding to Billie’s placating “Busy guy, huh?” with a blank-faced “Yeah, he’s the best.”
Newhouse, stuck with the traditional stick-in-the-mud role, brings more than expected, too, her harried control barely hiding Billie’s tamped-down desperation. The pilot drops in plenty of indications that both Billie and Gene have unexpected sides that’ll be teased out over the course of the season; indeed, part of the challenge Idiotsitter faces going forward is not tipping its hand too quickly, a balancing act the pilot acknowledges by throwing out a few feints toward sentimentality and then swerving away at the last second. Gene’s last ditch appeal to keep Newhouse from fleeing (for a second time in the pilot) plays out like a too-naked “big speech,” swelling music and all, before Billie calls her out for plagiarizing the whole thing from a specific film.
That moment, as Bell and Newhouse riff playfully on said movie before snapping back into the plot, is emblematic of Idiotsitter’s other chief asset, as the actress’ lived-in rapport keeps the episode singing along. Bell’s engine is always running, Gene’s need to bend everything to her every fleeting caprice consistently filled with unexpected turns and non sequiturs only Gene could understand. (Seeing the impaired Billie finally cut loose, Gene lets loose a full-throated, “Yeah, get it! Get it like Meg Ryan would!”) And Newhouse makes Billie’s more reactive, responsible role more than just the Cousin Larry to Bell’s wanton Balki. She’s good at grounding her perpetual discomfiture at Gene’s antics in character-based specifics, as in her asides to herself when Gene heedlessly rummages through Billie’s fussily packed belongings.
Idiotsitter is raucous and loose (the signature Comedy Central outtake end tag shows how much riffing is involved), but also a very promising vehicle for Bell and Newhouse. Their deft comic teamwork and penchant for gleeful silliness recalls not only the on-and-offscreen best pal protagonists of Workaholics, but Broad City’s Abbi and Ilana as well.