Every once in a while, a show comes along that's pretty much already the best version of itself the first time you see it. Most often, any given series will take a season or two to "get on its feet" or "find its legs" or whatever lower extremity-related colloquialism is most appropriate. But, from time to time we are lucky enough to be blessed by a series that knows exactly what it is and who it's being made for right from the start. One such series is one of Hulu's newest comedies, Reboot.
Now, for anyone who might be around my age, no, this is not a reboot of the classic mid-90s animated series of the same name. It is, however, a delightfully self-referential comedy with a top-tier ensemble cast and writing that balances said comedy with heart so well that it legitimately made me jealous at times. Created by Steven Levitan, co-creator of Modern Family, and starring Crazy Ex-Girlfriend's Rachel Bloom, Key and Peele's Keegan-Michael Key, Jackass' Johnny Knoxville, Austin & Ally's Calum Worthy, Archer's Judy Greer and Mad About You's Paul Reiser, Reboot follows the dysfunctional cast of a classic early-2000s family sitcom struggling to become the updated reimagining that it's been optioned to be, as the cast literally works through their real-life unresolved issues.
Imagine a Full House-style sitcom about a stepfather acclimating to his new family -- a mother and son and the ex-husband who still lives with them. That's basically what Step Right Up, the fictional show within Reboot, is, and even though it saw a level of success also relative to that of the real-life Full House, the fun came to a halt when the Yale-trained Reed Sterling (Key) decided to leave the show for the supposed greener pastures of the film industry. Unfortunately, he did so with lackluster results, and the rest of the cast hasn't fared much better. Except for Zack (Worthy), that is -- he has gone on to a pretty successful career making mediocre straight-to-video teen movies with names like Hunchback of Notre Dame High School, and Minor Miner. Everyone else has kind of slid into obscurity (not that anyone ever recognizes Zack).
Cut to Hannah (Bloom), who gets the idea of an edgier, realer follow-up to the original show. "You know how in the old sitcom, the characters always did the right thing?" she says in her pitch -- to Hulu, no less. "They don't do the right thing anymore. You know, like I fuck with it. But in a fun way." The fictional Hulu execs love the idea, as do the original cast members, but everything gets iffy when Gordon (Reiser), the original showrunner, shows up and rocks the boat, claiming the new Step Right Up is classically funny enough without the "edge."
There is something particularly endearing to me about shows that are about the television industry. Maybe it's the glasses, or the fact that she's a female showrunner of a comedy with a personality-rich cast and crew to work with, but Hannah's whole thing gives me heavy Liz Lemon vibes. The main difference is she's considerably less goofy. Being that Bloom has herself run a TV show in real life, there's also a lot of truth that she brings to the role that helps ground the whole thing.
The combo of Key, Greer, Knoxville and Worthy is a formidable one, as all of them have honed their comedic chops in various areas of the entertainment industry, yet still manage to make this one completely hilarious group performance an unforgettable one. The dynamic between their characters is typical of that of a theatre production. There are a number of interpersonal dynamics at play, and of course, no shortage of backstage drama. Sterling (Key) and Bree (Greer) had an on again/off again romance back in the day, but Sterling is now "in a committed relationship." Zack kind of wishes Clay (Knoxville) was his real dad and -- spoiler alert -- Gordon is estranged Hannah's father, which is an even bigger deal considering Step Right Up is actually based on his own exploits with the family for which he abandoned Hannah and her mother. Yikes!
I also dig all the little decisions that help make the series what it is. Like, I love the fact that every episode is named after a different real-life television show, except for the first one, which is named Step Right Up. The rest so far are New Girl, Growing Pains, Girlfriends, What We Do in the Shadows, Bewitched and Baskets. There's also a character named Timberly (Aliyah Chanelle Scott), who came to Step Right Up's cast from a fictional reality show titled F*ckbuddy Mountain, which is an obvious reference to the real-life reality show F*ckboy Island.
I also like how the characters in Reboot are never without some kind of conflict, yet none of them is the asshole, if that makes sense. A lot of times, shows will feel the need to have a specific bad guy, rival, or source of conflict, and after the first episode I was certain that Gordon was going to be that person, but he wasn't. In retrospect this is actually a good thing, because any one person being the heavy would've made them sort of one dimensional, which no one on this show is, To its unending credit. Instead, the source of conflict is the fictional cast's unresolved personal issues coupled with the general insecurities that everyone who's job depends on the show probably shares.
Look, the reason Reboot doesn't feel like it had to "find its legs" is because it knew what it was before it's boots ever hit the ground. It knows it so well, that it constantly references itself. Key's Sterling character is reminiscent of a character from a season two Key & Peele skit titled "Playing a Thug." I mean, Sterling is basically the same guy, minus the accent. Key's experience as a major player in the TV comedy and drama space made him perfect for this part. Worthy started his acting career at nine, giving him a lot of real-life references for the emotionally stunted once-child actor he brings to life.
I love this show. Seriously. It's irreverent, emotionally intelligent, and you never feel like you're not in on the joke. This is a TV person's TV show, and besides the fact that it's supporting cast is filled with face after familiar face (like Eliza Coupe of Happy Endings, and Reno 911's Kerri Kenney, among others), its ability to remain as grounded as humanly possible while still delivering both meaningful and crass comedy is an art form that, as I've been saying, Reboot already has mastered. But then again, what did I expect from a guy who brought us the magic of Modern Family for 11 years?
New episodes of Reboot premiere Tuesdays on Hulu.
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