There's a palpable sense of desperation interwoven in the new NBC comedy (if this is indeed the right term) Free Agents, one that can best be summed up by the ever-increasing number of wine bottles dwarfing the female protagonist's single-serving frozen dinner at the supermarket check-out line. Surely in a TV show starring the ever-adorable Hank Azaria, this should not be -- but fear not, his big dark puppy-dog eyes are used to maximum heart-breaking potential here.
Azaria is in the role of recently divorced (and sorta schlubby) Alex, who will think about how much he misses his kids and consequently cry before, after, and during sexual intercourse. Alex has a one-night stand with fellow public-relations professional Helen (played by Crossing Jordan's Kathryn Hahn), who is still mourning the loss of her husband. Alex is extremely desperate, clingy, and needy, and Helen is a tough-as-nails broad with a heart of putty who won't admit her own feelings for her co-worker. Add Buffy the Vampire Slayer's Anthony Stewart Head as sexually
I enjoyed the first two episodes fine -- and it is on my current list of regularly-viewed TV programs -- but I'm not sure how long this show is going to last unless they really take it up a notch or two. As dark as "Free Agents" threatens to be -- it could be a heck of a lot darker! An adaptation of a British series of the same name (also starring Head in the same role), it should take a page from another UK production, Mitchell and Webb's Peep Show, in terms of chronicling the desolation and pitch-black comedy inherent in much of modern romance. The pilot of Free Agents held that potential -- but the second episode, "What I Did For Work," falls apart, to an extent, in a feel-good puddle of sentiment and schmaltz. A lot of the meanness of Leggero's character Emma should really be expressed by Helen, and Alex's said schlubness needs to be less adorable and a little more uncomfortably desperate.
Is this all what happens when British shows are adapted for American audiences? Do they lose a little bit of the "teeth?" Having not seen the original show, I can't speak for this case. But NBC's Free Agents needs to risk offending people and feature a bit more bad behavior and a little less Lifetime Romance-of-the Week.
Lastly, mention should be made of Azaria's quite fit and relatively muscular shirtless bod. He and John Cryer should do a competition to see which schlubby TV persona actually has the tightest washboard abs. Oh, Hollywood!
Watch episodes of Free Agents for free (while they are available) at the official NBC site