September 22, 2011


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Written by: Mitch Salem
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A lot can happen between the creation of a TV pilot in the spring and production of episodes for the regular season:  a writing/producing team is hired, audience focus groups weigh in, networks and studios (which may have had their own turnover in the off-season) give plenty of notes, both helpful and otherwise, and critics begin to rear their ugly heads.  The results can include changes to tone, pace, casting and even story.  Here at THE SKED, we’re going to look past the pilots and present reviews of the first regular episodes of this year’s new series as well.
Previously… on FREE AGENTS:  Alex (Hank Azaria) and Helen (Kathryn Hahn) are co-workers at a PR agency, a place that comes complete with womanizer Dan (Mo Mandel), schlemiel Gregg (Al Madrigal), the grimly ambitious Emma (Natasha Leggero) and crazy boss Stephen (Anthony Head).  Alex’s wife of 12 years recently divorced him, and Helen is still mourning her fiance, who died more than a year ago.  The two hook up, and swear it’ll never happen again–when it does, they swear they really mean it this time, and now they’re trying to be friends without becoming romantically involved.

Episode 2:  Free Agents was far from the most promising pilot of the season, and the second episode, written by vet Ira Ungerleider, is no better.  The main storyline has the agency trying to hold on to a client who, himself recently divorced, wants Alex to fix him up with a woman for the night.  Alex is naturally a fumbling mess at this, so he has to call Dan for help, but Dan shows up with women who prompt any number of jokes about just how underage they are.  When Alex finally seems to be hitting it off with a pair of women at the bar, they turn out to be hookers.  Nevertheless, it all works out:  in the parallel storyline, Helen was trying to help Emma be seductive with a guy at the office she liked, but it all fell apart when Emma was unable to turn off her frosty hostility.  Then it turns out that her kind of domination is exactly what the client likes!  Well, ha and ha.

It’s easy enough to wince at the storylines and dialogue in Free Agents, but the more fundamental problem is that while Azaria and Hahn are talented and likable, they don’t have any particular chemistry together, which sort of annhilates the whole concept of the show.  The whole cast is adrift doing their particular cartoonish schtick, and the only one who comes off well is Leggero, who’s actually pretty funny as she kills her chances with the guy she’s attracted to because she can’t stop herself from ranting about how much she despises his taste for the music of Spin Doctors.  (Combined with the Train jokes on Up All Night, it wasn’t a good night for soft rock tonight on NBC.)
45 seconds of wit, though, does not a successful comedy make, and the cast and crew of Free Agents, sadly enough, are likely to be exactly that before too much of the season has gone by.

Original VerdictChange the Channel
Pilot + 1:  Seriously–Find the Remote and Use It

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."