Selling! Selling! Selling! It's everywhere! Logos! Brands! Slogans! On the TV! On Billboards! On your clothes! America is a cesspool of advertising and marketing, where guys in sweaters concoct brand-management strategies for corporate behemoths to paste ideas of "family values," "eco-friendliness," "blue-collar ethics," and other lies over their money-grubbing mouths and bottom line. Ahhh yes, the perfect venue for a light-hearted comedy.
Selling is also all over CBS's new comedy The Crazy Ones, which is set in the mad, mad ad world and follows the advertising firm Lewis, Roberts, and Roberts as it grovels before McDonald's and other billion-dollar businesses to help convince Johnny America to pick up a Happy Meal on his way home. The show was created by David E. Kelley (Boston Legal, Ally McBeal, The Practice), who is to television shows as the 19 Kids and Counting's Duggar family is to children, and Kelley couldn't be a more perfect fit for the idea.
See, The Crazy Ones did as much selling in its pilot episode as the characters on screen, turning a half-hour single-camera comedy into one long and rather-empty branding session about the importance of family. the importance of family to the millions of consumers out there who could be swayed by a Big Mac (if it helped strengthen familial bonds) and the importance of family to the show and its central characters, father and daughter Simon Roberts (Robin Williams) and Sydney Roberts (Sarah Michelle Gellar).
Kelley is accomplished at toying with his audiences' emotions, and The Crazy Ones is classic Kelley; the series premiere opened with Lewis, Roberts, and Roberts on the verge of losing its big McDonald's account and Simon on the verge of losing his mind. The stone-hearted golems at McDonald's were thinking about taking their advertising budget to another firm, and Simon and Sydney were forced to scramble to keep the dough funneling into their own wallets (money was never actually mentioned—a wise choice—but it was obviously the goal). And that's when Simon spouted off a monologue about eating McDonald's in the olden days with his toddler Sydney and everyone sitting around the conference table was giving each other eyes like, "What is this wacko doing?" and some lovely music was switched on to tell us something magical was happening. Simon's "I'm just a family man who longs for the days when family mattered" speech took seed in the empty soul of the head McDonald's lady and she granted the firm an extra day to rejuvenate the old 1972 McDonald's "You deserve a break" ad campaign, as long as they could get a voice to sing the jingle.
Since Simon's in the know, he pitched Kelly Clarkson (yes THE Kelly Clarkson!!!) on singing "You Deserve a Break" but she was working on a re-brand of her own and wanted to croon about sex. She don't do jingles! Sure, whatever, Simon said. As long as they got her in the booth, he was sure they could convince her to record the jingle they wanted her to sing and McDonald's would be happy. After a Clarkson-approved sultry song called "It Ain't the Meat, It's the Motion" (and that motion made me nauseous, btw), Simon said, "Hey, what about family?" and Clarkson was like, "nope," and bolted. Simon gave Sydney a sad speech about something, and Sydney was inspired to chase Clarkson down in a restaurant and convince her that "You Deserve a Break" isn't just a jingle, it's a song about family. Clarkson wouldn't be selling hamburgers, she'd be selling the idea of family (oh, and lots of hamburgers). Clarkson told Sydney that Sydney sang the song in the restaurant right there, once more with feeling, Clarkson might change her mind. So Sydney did, and that was enough to convince Clarkson to be their gal. Cue the happy ending.
The Crazy Ones did a great job of hitting all its marks to create a comedy-drama hybrid about an underdog team of creatives trying to instill some values in this world. The wacky dad's timely speeches, the no-nonsense daughter's timely speeches, and the small victories inherent in the thawing-out of frigid obstacles (like the McDonald's team and Clarkson) were all manufactured to appeal to our sensitive human nature, and they did.
But this is just selling, guys. We're inclined to root for Simon and Sydney because they're front-and-center, and Williams is doing his shtick and Gellar is making those Oh-my-G faces, but all they really did in the pilot was come up with a last-minute strategy to keep an account. All the pre-packaged ups and downs were merely tried-and-true manipulations, and The Crazy Ones thinks the audience is the sucker. I don't want you to think that this is a takedown on advertising. A show about advertising can work (see: that dapper AMC show about Don Draper), but here, it came off as a dog-and-pony show. The biggest mistake The Crazy Ones made was that it failed to give us any real sense that Simon and Sydney actually believed in the message they were selling. Instead, they tried to sell whatever they could to keep the account, which turned out to be a recycled campaign that worked before. I don't know about you, but I ain't buying.
– What did you think of Robin Williams and his many voices? Do you find it funny when he goes into old Indian Chief voice? I'm actually surprised at how good of a dramatic actor he is, and for his part, he handled the monologues really well.
– What exactly is the role of James Wolk's Zach in this show? Man meat?
– If someone stood up and sang a few lines of a song from a commercial in a restaurant when you were trying to eat, do you think everyone in the eatery would applaud?
– It's impossible to get through this without letting the late, great Bill Hicks say his part (NSFW language):
– Yes, I'm fully aware of the irony that advertising pays my salary. Go figure!
What'd you think of The Crazy Ones' series premiere?
AIRED ON 4/17/2014
Season 1 : Episode 22