Allen Gregory: When Awful Characters Happen to Funny People

Seven-year-old nebbishy fop Allen Gregory De Longpre (Jonah Hill) is a loathsome character, possibly the most loathsome character in the Fox's entire primetime lineup. As the title character of Allen Gregory, the newest addition to the network's Sunday-night Animation Domination block, he's a welcome presence only in the sense that he isn't a Seth MacFarlane creation. In fact, Allen Gregory has a handsome, distinctive look and an impressive array of voice actors... it's just that its characters are almost aggressively unlikable. With a sense of humor best described as "nihilistic twee," it's unclear how popular the series will become. That said, the premiere episode had its moments, and Allen Gregory definitely has the potential to become something much better.

Sunday's debut served mainly to set up the show's basic premise: After being home-schooled most of his life, Allen Gregory, a "precocious" boy with the attitude of a pissed-off Jonah Hill, has suddenly found himself attending a public elementary school. Unable to relate to his peers in any way, Allen Gregory quickly alienated himself and became an object of derision among the people to whom he believed he was superior. The episode's fatal flaw was that it essentially wanted us to root for Allen to overcome these obstacles without ever giving us a single reason to care about such a monstrous kid.

Much of Allen Gregory's humor involves the constant, unprovoked put-downs leveled by Allen Gregory and his catty father Richard (French Stewart) against the decent people around them. Bearing the brunt of their awfulness are Richard's life partner Jeremy, a decent, handsome family man who was somehow converted to the gay lifestyle by Richard's alleged charms, and Julie, Allen Gregory's adopted Cambodian sister who speaks with the jaded affect of Daria Morgendorffer. Add to that Allen Gregory's sweet elementary school teacher (Leslie Mann) and kindly redhead friend Patrick (Christina Pucelli) and you've got a lot of nice people getting ruthlessly insulted by a couple of jerks. It's a premise that could work, except that Allen Gregory seems to think we'll also sympathize with this kid simply because he's sad. We don't.

But this is not to say I didn't laugh during Sunday's episode, which was chock-a-block with terrific throwaways, like a recurring gag about Julie's best male friend at school who only demonstrates his friendship by knocking things out of her hands and running away. Or a janitor at Allen Gregory's country club telling a hilariously pointless story about quitting the production of Bones because he didn't think David Boreanaz was the right choice to play Booth. The pilot's best joke involved Allen Gregory falling head-over-heels in lust with his dowdy, 60-something principal Mrs. Gottlieb, complete with an imagined seduction montage set to a Phil Collins song in which she described her nether-regions as "messy as post-Katrina."

With a supporting cast that also includes SNL's Will Forte and Nasim Pedrad, it's clear that Allen Gregory aims to stock its ranks with upper-echelon comedy figures. Jonah Hill, for his part, is a genuinely talented guy, and his stammering condescension works surprisingly well for a snobby child. It's just too bad the character (and show) seem so joyless. The gay dads seemed like such a good idea until I realized their relationship is a nightmare that is deeply unpleasant to witness. And it might have been nice if the pilot didn't involve someone crapping his pants. Call me old fashioned.

As much discomfort as I felt toward Allen Gregory and his father, this show is probably worth checking out again, if only to see whether it will mellow out and get more fun. Its Wes Anderson stylistic influences and absurd non-sequiturs are all very appealing, but the whole thing would be dramatically improved by the inclusion of just a tiny bit more heart. Fingers crossed!

I'm clearly torn... but what did YOU think of the premiere episode?

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