Funny ‘Reboot’ imagines the antics when an old sitcom gets the gang back together
Reliable TV actors play unreliable TV actors on Hulu’s breezy workplace comedy
In the premiere episode of the fast-paced, consistently funny and ultra-meta sitcom “Reboot” on Hulu, Rachel Bloom’s Hannah is pitching a sitcom idea to a room of Hulu executives, and see what I mean about meta? Hannah’s idea is to dust off a cheesy 2000s show called “Step Right Up” and bring back the original characters — only this time it’ll be edgier and more freewheeling.
“Are people still doing reboots?” says the head of programming.
The folks in the room take turns ticking off the litany of series that have been revived, including “Fuller House,” “Saved by the Bell,” “I, Carly,” “Gilmore Girls,” “Gossip Girl,” “Party of Five,” “Party Down,” “One Day at a Time,” “Boy Meets World,” “The Wonder Years,” “Battlestar Galactica,” “Doogie Howser,” “Hawaii Five-O,” “Veronica Mars,” “Fresh Prince,” “Fraggle Rock”…
A series premiering with three episodes Tuesday on Hulu. A new episode premieres each Tuesday through Oct. 25.
“What the hell,” says the exec. “Let’s remake something original!”
With an all-star cast of reliable veterans deftly handling the mix of pure sitcom dialogue with the occasional legitimately moving dramatic movement, “Reboot” is a breezy workplace comedy, and we know TV loves shows about TV, from “The Dick Van Dyke Show” through “Murphy Brown” through “The Larry Sanders Show” and “30 Rock.”
Created by Steven Levitan (“Modern Family”), the series takes place largely on the set and behind the scenes of the fictional “Step Right Up” revival, with starred the pretentious, Yale School of Drama grad Reed Sterling (Keegan-Michael Key) and the flighty Bree Marie Jensen (Judy Greer) as a newly married couple, Clay Barber (Johnny Knoxville) as Bree’s first husband and a child actor named Zack Jackson (played as an adult by Calum Worthy) as Reed’s character’s new stepson. (For reasons unexplained, they all live together, because sitcoms.)
Shockingly, all four of these actors are available for the reboot. Reed left the show to pursue a career in films and theater — a career that never took off. Bree departed showbiz to marry the duke of a very small and very cold Nordic nation, who divorced her to marry his assistant. Clay got into scrapes with the law and returned to his stand-up roots, to middling success. As for Zack, he starred in a series of straight-to-video teen movies with titles such as “Kid Congressman,” “Teenstronaut” and “Hunchback of Notre Dame High.” So yep: all available.
Hannah populates the writers’ room with a young and diverse group — but even before the first episode can be taped, we get a very sitcom-like twist, when the original showrunner for “Step Right Up,” Paul Reiser’s Gordon, arrives on set. Turns out Gordon had a clause in his contract that guaranteed his return if the show ever came back, so here he is, and he brings along a team of veteran writers who made their bones in the 1970s and 1980s.
Cue the scenes of the oldsters cracking one inappropriate joke after another in the writers’ room (to the horror but sometimes amusement of the younger set), and suggesting bits involving characters tripping and falling, getting involved in all sorts of wacky misunderstandings and experiencing gastrointestinal issues.
“Reboot” simultaneously pokes fun at and embraces the genre; as the perpetually upbeat and endearingly naïve Zack notes, everything will work out because this is TV. Issues are created and resolved within the arc of an episode or two, but of course there are some ongoing storylines involving the romantic past between two of the leads, Clay’s efforts to stay sober and the generational clashes between Hannah and Gordon.
This is a crowded show, with a number of supporting players added to the mix and getting their own storylines, but the core six performers carry the brunt of the load. Rachel Bloom is wonderful as the smart but screwed-up Hannah (shades of Tina Fey in “30 Rock”), and she makes for a great team playing off Reiser’s Gordon. (Reiser, of course, is a seasoned pro, and he can roll out of bed and handle this role. He’s terrific.)
Calum Worthy takes what could have been a one-dimensional character and infuses him with some surprising touches, while the priceless Judy Greer and the gifted Keegan-Michael Key are as good as you’d expect them to be. Even Johnny Knoxville, who doesn’t have the scripted comedy resume to match his co-stars, does a fine job of blending in and creating an authentic character.
Despite the initial concerns of that Hulu exec, “Reboot” proves there’s still some life left in reboots. On Hulu. In a show about a show on Hulu.