Weird Loners has a couple of strikes against it: an unappealing name and a premise that doesn’t go much past “hangout comedy.” On the surface it resembles the recent generic Quirky Roommates Sitcom trailer made out of stock footage.
What Weird Loners has in its corner is an appealing cast and some hard-hitting TV vets. Director Jake Kasdan has also executive-produced Ben And Kate (no longer with us) and New Girl (still around). Show creator Michael J. Weithorn goes all the way back to Family Ties, and created Ned And Stacey and The King Of Queens. At the Television Critics Association panel in January, Weithorn hinted that the show title might have been inspired from his own life: “I actually have not been working in television for a number of years. I was tired of living as an actual weird loner.”
Since Kasdan and Weithorn both know their way around a sitcom set, it’s not a surprise that Weird Loners soon adds more gravity than most new shows boast from right out of the gate. The first few episodes of Weird Loners show how effectively Kasdan has learned to create closeness out of relative strangers (with one glaring exception so far) as Caryn, Stosh, Eric, and Zara start to form a makeshift family as new neighbors in a Queens brownstone. Of the main players, the show was smart to make Stosh (Zachary Knighton) and Eric (Nate Torrence) cousins, adding needed weight and a strong sense of cultural history to their relationship. It explains names like Stosh, presents the opportunity to sing Polish songs in the shower, and gives reason to why two such disparate types would be roommates.
Sitcoms often open with breakups to explain new friendships or relationships (Rachel and Alex leaving the altar in Friends and Knighton’s Happy Endings; Jess ditching her boyfriend in New Girl). The breakups that happen in the darker-than-expected Loners are the tamest hardships its characters endure. Some weird loners are weird because they run from commitment, like Caryn, Stosh, and Zara; some, like Eric, live in a completely isolated universe after his father dies in the pilot. As the only truly good-hearted character (call it the Olaf role), Eric needs this immediate makeshift family, even as it gels slowly. Fortunately for his cousin, Stosh soon loses his job and home and comes to stay with him. While he is immediately painted as an opportunist, the most effective early episode shows how much the posh Stosh actually needs his dorky, sweet cousin, because Eric’s the only person who’s ever really liked him.
Of the female leads, Becki Newton has been searching for a decent vehicle ever since the death of Ugly Betty and has found a good fit here. Her Caryn runs from the safety of a guy like dermatologist Howard (David Wain), but her commitment phobia appears to stem from her longing for passion and romance. Stosh offers no shortage of either—this will they/won’t they isn’t even a question—but he’s even more commitment-phobic than Caryn is. The slow-building friendship between the two is so far more interesting than their possibly problematic romantic future. Of the four main players, only Meera Rohit Kumbhani remains an absolute blank slate in the first few episodes, although Zara will hopefully fill in as the hangout comedy hangs out more.
Beyond its thin premise, Weird Loners fares best when it digs deeper, having Stosh help Caryn out with an older relative, or exploring the childhood history between Stosh and Eric. Kasdan and Weithorn clearly know how this is done, but are faced with a marketing problem: Weird Loners may struggle to find viewers who can look past the show’s generic surface to find the superlative sitcom that lies beneath.