October 10, 2013

THE SKED Pilot + 1 Review: “Sean Saves the World”



A lot can happen between the creation of a TV pilot and the production of regular episodes: writer/producers may be hired or fired, audience focus groups weigh in, networks and studios (which may have had their own turnover) give plenty of notes, helpful and otherwise, and critics start to rear their ugly heads. Tone, pace, casting, and even story can change. Here at THE SKED, we’re going to look past the pilots and present reviews of the first regular season episodes as well.

Previously… on SEAN SAVES THE WORLD:  When gay dad Sean’s (Sean Hayes) ex-wife moves out of town for a new job, Sean becomes single dad to 14-year old Ellie (Samantha Isler), and he tries to raise her while ducking his overbearing, boundary-less mother Lorna (Linda Lavin).  At work, Sean, his BFF Liz (Megan Hilty) and co-worker Hunter (Echo Kellum) cope with their eccentric new boss Max (Thomas Lennon).

Episode 2:  The major change Sean Saves the World made after the Upfronts was recasting the role of Liz with Megan Hilty, and the first post-pilot episode gives Liz a much more prominent role than she had initially.  This has the effect of giving parts of Sean a distinctly Will & Grace feel, but Hilty is one of the brighter presences on the show, so it’s not a bad move.

There’s plenty of talent evident in Sean, including series creator Victor Fresco, a strong, proven cast and, behind the scenes, multi-camera legend James Burrows (who, among his other illustrious credits, was house director on Will & Grace).  Among the trio of new Thursday comedies on NBC, it’s easily the most accomplished, neither as flat as Welcome To the Family nor as bland as The Michael J. Fox Show.  At the moment, though, there’s nothing particularly special about it.

Tonight’s episode, written by Co-Executive Producer Claudia Lonow, was timid and unmemorable.  The central plot had Ellie in need of her first bra, prompting dueling offers from Lorna and Liz to take her shopping, so of course Sean had each of them take her while trying to keep the other’s win a secret.  As it happened, both just made Ellie uncomfortable, Liz by convincing her to buy sexy outfits (including a teddy) and recounting her own love life, and Lorna with too much advice about exploring her body.  In the end, father and daughter would go together.  As good as they are, Lavin and Hilty couldn’t do much with this material, although they were both better when they actually shared a hostile scene together.  Meanwhile, the workplace story had Max eavesdropping on Sean, Liz and Hunter in the break room, and when Max gifted Sean with a bra for Ellie and Sean expressed how inappropriate that was, Max temporarily banned him from the break room (only to reverse the edict when Sean gave Max the teddy for his mother).

To an extent, Sean feels limited by Sean Hayes, whose go-to moves of frantic panic (usually involving dropping or breaking something) and clueless overconfidence are already overused in just the second episode.  When Hayes lets himself be subdued, he’s better, as in a bit where he tried to convince Lorna that the bra Liz bought for Ellie was something for him to wear in a gay pride parade, and then had to wearily admit he doesn’t have the energy to march in one of those.  It’s not an unusual problem when a strong ensemble is anchored by a star and everyone else has to revolve around him or her; the question is whether Hayes will let the show that bears his name be about the other characters as much as about his (as, for example, Amy Poehler has allowed Parks & Recreation to be a true ensemble piece).  For now, Thomas Lennon’s strenuous weirdness as Max feels imported from another show entirely, while Lavin and Hilty are one-note (their respective relationships to Sean are summed up in a single gag:  Lorna brings him kale chips to eat while Liz brings him a bear claw–which Lorna confiscates), and Kellum is an afterthought.  We know that series creator Victor Fresco has a distinctive comic voice, and it’s not well served with teen bra jokes.

Sean Saves the World has possibilities–there was another nice underplayed bit in this episode where, with a 14-year old at home, Sean’s proud to have developed the skill of catching things thrown to him–but the question is whether it’ll have the chance to realize them.  Along with the rest of NBC’s Thursday line-up, its ratings last week were atrocious, with a 1.4 start airing against Robin Williams and The Crazy Ones along with Grey’s Anatomy and Glee that gives it very little rope, especially since Michael J. Fox has a 22-episode commitment, so it can’t be canceled without huge penalties to the network.  With time, Sean might figure out how to put its pieces together in a less routine way–if the axe isn’t already being sharpened.

ORIGINAL VERDICT;  If Nothing Else Is On…

PILOT + 1:  Forget the World, Saving the Timeslot Will Be Hard Enough

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."