3:05pm

Mon May 16, 2011
Monkey See

NBC's Fall Schedule: The New Comedies

NBC was the first network to complete its upfront presentation today, and the top hard-news headline (of a sort) was that Donald Trump won't run for president. This might have come as a surprise to you if you haven't followed the undirected nuttery that is the showbiz career of Donald Trump — which, bless that huckstering haystack of hair, I have.

But NBC also did present its new fall shows, so let's take a look, starting with the comedies.

Are You There, Vodka? It's Me, Chelsea

Laura Prepon of That '70s Show stars as Chelsea, a bartender who isn't quite Chelsea Handler, despite the fact that it's based on Chelsea Handler's book of the same name. So she's alterna-Chelsea. The pedigree here isn't especially cutting-edge, as the creators come from Dharma & Greg and The Drew Carey Show, and this is one of two Chelsea-Handler-adjacent comedies NBC is rolling out this season that have audible laughter — a sharp departure from the network's signature Thursday night comedy block.

Bent

I'm just spitballing here, but it appears that Amanda Peet stars in this one as your basic stick-in-the-mud single woman who needs an irresponsible pothead to show her how to loosen up. It's romantic, you see. Also please note that according to the press release, her feisty sister's name is "Screwsie." So there is no shortage of name-based whimsy, and if there's one thing network television needs, it's name-based whimsy.

Best Friends Forever

This one involves a divorced woman who moves in with her old best friend and her boyfriend, leading to ... well, NBC says the two share "beloved traditions, Steel Magnolia marathons and epic girl-talk sessions." Doesn't that sound fresh and unexpected? (Sorry, that's the cynicism talking. Haven't even seen a whole episode yet! Can't say!)

Free Agents

Let me come clean here: I have a very difficult time looking at this show objectively, because the network chose, as its promo image (found on this page), a very hostile sex joke in which not only is Kathryn Hahn on her knees apparently servicing Hank Azaria, but she's doing it grudgingly while looking at the camera as if she's begging for help.

It's gross, it shouldn't have happened, and they ought to take it down. If you can't promote a comedy about a relationship ("they're made for each other," the trailer proclaims, as opposed to "he's blackmailing her into this," which is more like what the picture suggests") without a woman-on-her-knees joke, you need a better comedy or a better marketing department, full stop.

It's not fair to hold this kind of thing against the people who make the show, because they don't always control the marketing campaign, but if there's a responsible person working somewhere in marketing for NBC, I beg you: get this picture off your site. It has no business there.

Having said that, watch the trailer for yourself.

Up All Night

Will Arnett had a tough 2010-11 TV season — his Fox comedy Running Wilde, which he worked on with some of his old Arrested Development buddies, had some funny ideas, but it never really came together, and it never caught on. He's at NBC now on a comedy about new parents, where he co-stars with the terrific Christina Applegate, who has long deserved to get a show to stick. The trailer is funny and likable, and some of the clips show off a good supporting turn from Maya Rudolph. It's very early, but at least it's not a comedy trailer without a single laugh in it (that's right, Bent).

Whitney

Whitney Cummings, a comedian who appears on Chelsea Lately, heads up NBC's other very conventional-looking multicamera sitcom — one that has either a very intrusive laugh track or a weirdly enthused audience that laughs hysterically even at the things that are not jokes.

Oddly, this is the show NBC plans to sub in on Thursday nights while 30 Rock is on hiatus until midseason. There's some juggling as they dismantle the ill-fated three-hour comedy block and reduce it back to two, but the big four will now be: Community, Parks & Recreation, The Office, and now ... Whitney. It's a very strange fit, and it's been a long time since NBC had any sort of success selling a show like this. Notably, when ABC created its Wednesday block with three single-camera deadpan shows (The Middle, Modern Family and Cougar Town) and one very traditional multicamera show (Hank), what happened was ... well, you're probably trying to remember what Hank was, so that's all you need to know. Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.