The first scene of Comedy Central’s Idiotsitter introduces star Jillian Bell as Gene, a drunk 20-or-30-something riding atop a pony named Ice Cream as she bangs on the window of a police car. ”How much for sex with both of you?” she slurs to two stunned male officers, blood running from her head, slugging from a bottle of whiskey. “Also, I’d like to report a stolen pony.”
Meanwhile, across town, we meet co-star Charlotte Newhouse as Billie, sporting a conservative pink blazer and headband, racing to a job interview while being trailed by a tow truck. “Mom,” she whimpers into her phone, “Can you Google if someone can repossess your car while you’re driving it?”
Get it? One’s a nervous, Type-A good girl, the other’s 2010 Ke$ha. And never the twain shall meet.
I’m kidding, of course; the twain shall meet. And, surprisingly, it seems like they might transcend their tropes, too. As it turns out, Billie — a stressed-out Harvard grad buried in student loans — is interviewing for what she believes to be a babysitting job for the 7-year-old daughter of rich dude Kent (Stephen Root, who’s incredible here) and his dazed trophy wife Tanzy (Jennifer Elise Cox, also predictably wonderful). But in actuality, Billie’s interviewing to become the court-appointed guardian of — you guessed it — Gene, Kent’s out-of-control adult daughter who’s on house arrest for her “criminal past… and present” and needs somebody to help her get her GED. Cue classic buddy-comedy hijinks.
Born as a Comedy Central web series of the same name and now being ushered to its small-screen destiny by creators/stars/writers Bell and Newhouse, Idiotsitter lays out most of its cards in the pilot. Plot-wise, at least, you know what’s coming down the pike: Gene will learn accountability and something resembling adult behavior from Billie; Billie will learn to let loose from Gene. But what keeps the show from devolving into cliché is its snappy dialogue, gooey center, and the natural repartee of Newhouse and Bell, who met while performing with The Groundlings and have been friends and writing partners ever since. (Bell’s also made a name for herself with roles in 22 Jump Street, The Night Before, and Workaholics; IMDb tells me Newhouse is known for Puss In Boots: The Three Diablos…?)
Inevitably, Idiotsitter will draw comparisons to Comedy Central’s other female buddy comedy, Broad City, so let’s get that out of the way. In interviews, Bell and Newhouse liken Idiotsitter to ’80s and ’90s classics like The Nanny and Mr. Belvedere. But the show does feel much closer to Broad City and Workaholics, what with its freewheeling improvisational vibe and tendency to veer into absurdity. Idiotsitter is more plot-driven and high-concept than both, though, which threatens to stifle it at times; where Broad City sees Ilana and Abbi swapping and upending character tropes (neither is the good girl or the hot mess all the time), Idiotsitter is occasionally deflated by its insistence on hewing to its relatively straightforward premise.
As such, the show’s at its comedic best when it lets its two leads loose to riff on and play off of each other, Broad City-style. In the first few minutes of the pilot, as Billie tries to wrangle her way out of the horrifying legal-guardian arrangement, Gene attempts to forge an immediate connection with Billie by “doing a spot-on impression” of her, which just consists of speaking Billie’s sentences as they come out of her mouth, albeit with a three-second delay. “What are you doing?” asks Billie, incredulous. Kent, delighted at their “connection,” suggests the pair will have a “constant gal-pal hangaround, like Sex and the City.” Gene replies, “Ooh! I’ll be Phoebe! I look the most like her! You have to let me have her!” “That’s… Friends…” whispers a dejected Billie, near tears.
Idiotsitter also finds a lot of its humor in emphasizing the unexpected similarities between the two, which often reveal themselves in surreal and hilarious ways. Despite themselves, Billie and Gene bond over pop-culture totems like Dirty Dancing (Billie explains she’s the “disapproving older sister who never did another movie”), Austin Powers (the two trade terrible Mike Myers impressions in a bathtub), and a shared concern for whether Angelina Jolie murdered Brad Pitt (she didn’t). And when Gene accidentally “hoofies” (a combo of a horse tranquilizer and a roofie) Billie at her house party, the two end up having a blast, inventing a version of Apples to Apples that involves passing apples back and forth in a circle, alternately taking bites out of them and using them to smoke weed.
There’s both heart and quirky imagination at the center of Idiotsitter’s joyful idiocy, which means the show likely won’t run out of steam as quickly as its uncomplicated-on-paper premise might suggest. Gene isn’t just a blithe, stunted adolescent, there’s a real sweetness to her, a yearning for a genuine friendship with Billie and for a relationship with her overly permissive, globe-trotting father. As he leaves for a three-day “breathing workshop” in Japan without saying goodbye, Billie empathetically asks Gene, “Busy guy, huh?” “Yeah, he’s the best,” Gene replies, as if trying to convince herself. And hidden beneath Billie’s season-one-Monica-Geller exterior, there’s some genuine weirdness — she creatively dodges credit card companies by pretending to be a Jewish jeweler, writes “Ladyhawke fanfiction,” and still owns the pants her grandfather died in.
But whenever Idiotsitter seems like it might choke on a moment of sentimentality or genuine sadness, it vomits it back up into someone’s hair (quite literally, in the case of Billie at Gene’s party). But, you know, in a charming way. Near the end of the pilot, Billie finds out about the hoofie and storms out of the house. Gene chases her down the driveway on a bicycle, unleashing a solemn, heartfelt apology speech about fear and human connection. “That is verbatim Baby’s speech to Patrick Swayze at the end of Dirty Dancing,” replies Billie. “Yes, it is,” grins Gene. “And then they have amazing dance sex.”
Idiotsitter premieres Thursday, January 14 at 10:30 p.m. Eastern on Comedy Central.