June 13, 2011


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Written by: Mitch Salem
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>Disclaimer:  Network pilots now in circulation are not necessarily in the form that will air in the Fall.  Pilots are often reedited and rescored, and in some cases even recast or reshot.  So these critiques shouldn’t be taken as full TV pilot reviews, but rather as a guide to the general style and content of the new shows coming your way.

FREE AGENTS –  Wednesday 8:30PM on NBC:  Change the Channel

There’s a movie opening about a month from now called Crazy, Stupid, Love, about a middle-aged guy whose marriage has just broken up (Steve Carell), trying to get back into the world of dating.  It would be wrong to review that film so far in advance, so all I’m going to say is that everyone who is in any way involved with the new sitcom FREE AGENTS, which is about a middle-aged guy whose marriage has just broken up (Hank Azaris), trying to get back into the world of dating, should spend the months between now and September watching that movie on a nonstop loop until they’ve learned something.

Free Agents is written by John Enbom (from the semi-improvised cult show Party Down) and Chris Niel, based on a British format.  Working within the framework of US network TV, they struggle with both the workplace and rom-com aspects of the show, pushing too hard for laughs that feel desperate and never quite appear.  (It’s almost like a multi-camera script shot in single camera style, even though the pilot is directed by single camera expert Todd Holland.).  The conceit of the series is that Alex (Azaria), whose wife has left him, and Helen (Kathryn Hahn), whose fiancee died a year earlier, are co-workers at a small PR firm, and while both are wretchedly trying to move on and meet new people, they’re quietly sleeping together while refusing to call it a relationship.  (US series requiring a lot more episodes than their British counterparts, we’ll see how long that contrivance lasts.)
The tone of Free Agents might make more sense in the less naturalistic environs of British TV comedy.  Here it just seems odd that Helen lives literally surrounded by giant photos of her dead fiancee and doesn’t notice it, or that Alex breaks into tears whenever he hears a song that reminds him of his absent kids.  Alex, in particular, is a character who’s hard to take, being not only constantly prone to tears but regularly beaten down by his assistant, who openly despises him (Natasha Leggero), his boss (Anthony Head, who played the same role in the British show) and his co-workers (Mo Mandel and Al Madrigal).
Azaria and Hahn are both personable actors, but they strike no sparks off each other at all, so it’s tough to root for their relationship, and individually, there’s just the grim prospect of their hopeless dating life as a source for endless plotlines.  The office sequences are no more promising, with a cast that never gels as an ensemble.  It makes for a very long 22 minutes.
Free Agents doesn’t have much to offer, and it makes a strange mate with Up All Night, the promising comedy NBC has preceding it in the Wednesday 8PM hour.  (Mitch Metcalf’s Wednesday projection has Free Agents dismally in 4th place.)   Unless its creators can pick something up from better works on the same subject (that’s Crazy, Stupid Love–July 29 at a theater near you) or otherwise find a way to make it come together, they may live up to their title by quickly being back on the open market.
Read more about TV’s new shows at THE SKED PILOT REPORT.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."