After watching the first episode of Netflix‘s new half-hour sketch comedy series, The Characters, most viewers will likely have the same thought: “Something feels wrong.” A few more episodes in, this feeling will transform into a visceral reaction/realization: “It’s the title! It must be changed.” Why? Because the show will leave audiences thinking they just spent 30 minutes of their lives watching some characters try to make them laugh with a bizarre array of jokes. As for the characters — comic creations whose assured presence is unquestionable — little about this program stands out.
To its credit, The Characters works from one of the loosest interpretations of what constitutes a sketch since Inside Amy Schumer and Key & Peele. And considering the track record producers John Skidmore, Genevieve Aniello and Brittney Segal have bring with them, maybe this foray into extreme niche comedy will lead to greater things down the line. Skidmore — whose producing resumé includes many of Louis C.K.‘s stand-up specials, Louie, Difficult People and Broad City — developed an intriguing concept with Aniello (A Very Murray Christmas) and Segal (The Office, Parks and Recreation). They gave eight comedians from different backgrounds “the opportunity to create their own 30-minute episodes and do whatever they want.”
They also promised them that the results wouldn’t be skewered by any “rules” or “limits,” meaning that what each comic did with their half hour would be unique enough to differentiate one entry from the next. So if you end up preferring the episode filmed by Lauren Lapkus, Kate Berlant, Dr. Brown, Paul W. Downs, John Early, Tim Robinson, Natasha Rothwell or Henry Zebrowski, then your preference will have more to do with that particular comedian than with the show itself. In that way, The Characters acts as a vessel for each performer’s specific take on sketch comedy.