I got my hands on some of the pilots for fall’s new shows. I’ll try to review as many of them as possible — keeping in mind that a pilot isn’t necessarily a sure indicator of a show’s future quality or success. Today: “Free Agents,” debuting tonight on NBC.
Premise: Corporate PR co-workers Alex (Hank Azaria) and Helen (Kathryn Hahn) have an obvious attraction to each other, but they’re too messed up from previous heartbreak (Alex is recently divorced and cries at the thought of his children; Helen keeps her apartment draped with portraits of her dead fiancé) to date each other — or anyone else.
Pros: Showrunner John Enbom (head writer of “Party Down”); Azaria and the wildly underrated Hahn (Anchorman, Step Brothers, Northwestern alumna!); Anthony Head as the lecherous boss; Joe Lo Truglio as a security guard/sword enthusiast; Natasha Leggero as Azaria’s cold-blooded assistant with an eye on his job; a montage set to the Black Keys.
Cons: Mo Mandel as the office douchebag doesn’t do much for me; Al Madrigal as the token lame married guy looks like a Fred Armisen character on “SNL.” Also, “Free Agents” is based on a British show of the same name, so it comes built-in with a non-audience pooh-poohing any perceived downgrades.
Worth watching? Yes. The dialogue is quick and sharp, and there’s potential here for a smart workplace comedy. On the wide spectrum of quality for American adaptations of British comedies, “Free Agents” is closer “The Office” than “Coupling” — but I wouldn’t count on it lasting nearly as long as “The Office.” Given “Free Agents'” tendency for awkward scenarios and jokes hidden in rapid-fire dialogue, it may be hard for the show to find an audience, so appreciate Kathryn Hahn while you can.