After four episodes of relying on Katie/Carol stories and John Michael Higgins’ performance, Great News starts opening up the ensemble this week and spreading the comedic wealth. The show isn’t quite up to part just yet—generally speaking, the timing still feels a little slack and it’s clear the show hasn’t cut loose the way it should—but these two episodes this week are once again a good indication of what’s coming down the pipeline.
“Snowmagedon of the Century” is the first episode of the series so far where the burden has been on the whole ensemble to carry the episode rather than on character pairs. Shocked and appalled that her co-workers aren’t a tight group of friends, Carol tries her best to bring everyone together, but she’s disappointed when no one takes her up on a karaoke night out. After a very long week, the entire Breakdown team just wants to head home for the weekend before they start turning on each other, but God has other plans for them in the form of a blizzard. Naturally, this sends everyone over the edge until a cart full of screw-top wine saves, and then later threatens, the day.
Credited writers Chrissy Pitrosh and Jessica Goldstein effectively ramp up the tension through some nice character scenes in the first two acts. Greg, extra frustrated to be alive, tries to keep the ship afloat and just make it to the weekend, but it’s extra difficult with Carol’s good-hearted meddling. He stops two fights in the newsroom and the studio, respectively, and yet he’s not strong enough to stop the tide when the gang gets stuck in the building due to the weather. The Breakdown crew eventually turns a game of Two Truths and a Lie into a chance to air all grievances, leaving Greg and Carol in the wind.
Carol, adopting the Fun Mom persona, steals a cartload of wine from Morning Wined Up (a bald semi-parody of The Today Show), and gets everyone drunk. The short montage scene where everyone gets trashed is Great News at its best, with sight gags and background jokes galore, including Portia making it rain all over Beth, Carol playing five finger fillet, and Wayne dancing with a cardboard cutout. Greg learns to cut loose and starts acting a fool, but when network wants everyone to do a special broadcast, he suddenly feels the cold weight of responsibility on his shoulders. But of course, Carol’s plan actually sort of works and everyone tries to Spartacus the blame for Greg. Ultimately, they all work together and pull off some sort of segment that was probably a disaster but not nearly enough of one for it to matter.
“Serial Arsonists” is the weaker of the two if only because Carol-as-crazy-stage-mom is too on the nose even for Carol and this show, but it also contains enough weirdness to get by. It begins with a network field reporter being arrested for serial arson, which opens up an on-air spot for Breakdown. Carol pushes Katie for the position, even though she desperately doesn’t want to be on camera or even be famous at all. She takes the job temporarily when she sees Greg’s talent pool, which includes a foreigner, a child, and a ventriloquist, and learns to her surprise that she’s good at on-camera work. After seeing a botched NRA segment she was set to produce, she requests her old job back, but learns that the network wants to keep her on permanently.
It’s easy to see where this goes: Carol enlisted a gang of elderly friends to call the network en masse to keep Katie on the air. Why? Because she wants her daughter to live out her dreams of being famous. Duh. That stuff is less interesting, even if Briga Heelan’s impromptu dance routine to prove to her mother that she could have won beauty pageants as a kid if she wanted to and get fired as a reporter works like gangbusters. It’s the weirdness on the fringe that really kills, like how the arsonist field reporter is apparently mobilizing a redhead army from prison, or Chuck and Justin’s terrible half-produced rock ‘n’ roll theme song for the show, or that Katie’s first field segment focuses on the 20th anniversary of Dunston Checks In, the 1996 family comedy about an orangutan in a hotel.
There are four more episodes of Great News left this season, and all signs point to this show stepping up to becoming a damn fine network comedy. There’s no telling if NBC will give it the second season it needs to become even better, but if it’s not long for this world, let’s enjoy what’s coming down the pipeline.
- In “Snowmagedon of the Century,” there’s a subplot where Katie misinterprets Chuck’s supportive-turned-flirtatious behavior as an advance. It’s mostly stupid, but there’s a great moment when Chuck turns on “Lady in Red” by Chris De Burgh and says “What do you think of this tune? It was playing when my dog died, but O still think it’s sexy.”
- Beth has more than a few great lines tonight. My favorites include: “Like it says on my tramp stamp, weather changes…” and “It’s my job to predict the weather, but it’s also my job to spin a sign in front of a cell phone store every morning, and I guess I’m spread too thin.”
- Portia has many side jobs, such as recording vocals for DJ Snake’s brother DJ Worm, giving a TED talk on the power of “chillaxing,” and working as a celebrity referee at Susan Sarandon’s ping-pong night club.
- Ana Gasteyer and Rachel Dratch, both former SNL alums, kill as the Wined Up hosts Kelly and Mary-Kelly. “Mary Kelly, you are the reason the bank took my house!”
- “Not to generalize, but in the history of all time, a man has never helped a woman.”
- “Billy’s hormone therapy isn’t going to pay for itself. He is only seven inches tall. That is not tall enough.”
- “Great, the Wendelson’s are ruining the show again!” “Yeah, but at least they’re engaging in dialogue about past trauma.”