October 4, 2013

THE SKED Pilot Review: NBC’s “Sean Saves the World”


SEAN SAVES THE WORLD:  Thursday 9PM on NBC – If Nothing Else Is On…

This is the kind of sitcom SEAN SAVES THE WORLD is.  A co-worker of Sean (Sean Hayes), Liz (Megan Hilty), walks into his office already talking, not realizing that he’s actually on speakerphone with their new boss.  When she’s called on it, she says “What was I supposed to do, wait to see if you were on the speakerphone?”  Instantly–bang!–another co-worker, Hunter (Echo Kellum), walks into the office and just stands there, and when Sean and Liz stare at him, he says “Oh, I was waiting to see if you were on speakerphone.”  What a coincidence!  Ha!  So subtlety isn’t going to be the byword here.

If that’s the kind of TV comedy you care for, the kind where every punch-line has to be underlined and italicized in case someone in a coma might miss it, then Sean Saves the World isn’t a bad example of the genre.  The concept is old-fashioned, with divorced dad Sean suddenly having to raise his teenage daughter Ellie (Samantha Isler) when her mother drops out of the picture by leaving town for a new job, balancing his new duties with his relationship with an overbearing mother of his own, Lorna (Linda Lavin), and his workplace issues, which center around his autocratic new boss Max (Thomas Lennon).  The one 21st-century twist:  Sean is gay, although in the pilot that’s only expressed by his frantic discomfort (he loudly fumbles with silverware) whenever the subject comes up with Ellie.

Sean is written by Victor Fresco, who created Better Off Ted and Andy Richter Controls the Universe, so this is very pedestrian stuff for him (there’s a long sequence where Sean tries to climb out of an office bathroom window so he can have dinner with Ellie), and there’s reason to hope that if the show catches on, it’ll have more personality than the pilot suggests.  For now, it’s mostly carried by the cast.  Hayes tones down his Will & Grace mannerisms nicely (James Burrows, the Yoda of multicamera sitcoms and house director on Will & Grace throughout its entire run, directed this pilot, although he won’t be staying with the show in series), Linda Lavin squeezes every molecule of humor out of her sardonic Jewish-mother lines, and Thomas Lennon is a strange enough presence to make his scenes a bit more interesting than they might otherwise be.  The show loses energy whenever Ellie is on screen–no fault of the actress, just that her storylines (she wanted to go out with her friends!  she’s upset that her mother moved away!) are threadbare.

NBC must have confidence in Sean, because the network has given the show one of the toughest slots on the schedule:  Thursday 9PM, the storied home of Cheers, Seinfeld and The Office, where it’ll be airing against The Crazy Ones, Grey’s Anatomy and Glee.  Its prospects, frankly, aren’t bright (although the advantage of being on NBC is that ratings that would lead to instant cancellation anywhere else can be good enough–just ask Community).  For creative reasons and for its own survival, it needs to develop some distinctiveness beyond being an OK example of a aging genre–and fast.

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."