Free Agents, Hank Azaria and Kathryn Hahn
Free Agents starts where most romantic comedies end — in bed.
In the opening moments of the new NBC sitcom — based on the British series of the same name — co-workers Alex (Hank Azaria), recently divorced, and Helen (Kathryn Hahn), whose fiancé died, are struggling with postcoital etiquette after their one-night stand, which, to hear the stars tell it, lets you know right off the bat that this is not your average love story.
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In fact, they call it an "anti-romantic comedy." Oh, don't worry, there'll be flirting, dates and hook-ups, but at its core, Free Agents will not have you swooning over "aww"-worthy moments. Here's why:
1. The question changes. While the typical rom-com rests on the "'Will they or won't they?" sexual tension of the leads, Free Agents has already answered that query. "They did it! There's no mystery there," Hahn tells TVGuide.com. "After you've seen it all, now it's: 'What's next?' Where do they go from here?" Alex and Helen are not friends with benefits, but they are friends with a "profound connection." "Neither of them are ready for a relationship yet — they're both reeling from [their past relationships] — but I think it's something neither of them anticipated. I think what they have is real and unexpected," she says. "It's obviously going to mutate through the course of the series and that's what we're tackling."
2. More work, less play. You could call the show more of a workplace comedy, as a lot of the action takes place at Alex and Helen's PR firm with supporting players Natasha Leggero, Mo Mandel, Al Madrigal, Joe Lo Truglio and Anthony Head, who reprises his role from the original as the duo's boss. "The most successful episodes we've done have integrated both," Azaria says, pointing out a future episode in which Helen and the office "rebrand" Alex like they would a damaged corporation. The metaphor runs deeper when you consider that their whole business is about spin — and yet, Alex's and Helen's personal lives are spinning out of control. "[The setting's] such a fertile place for story lines," Hahn says. "They're hiding themselves for the clients, so they take whatever's going on inside and subvert it. You're constantly navigating your moral compass. The woman- or man-on-the-verge is always a great thing to explore."
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3. You don't need Kleenex. There's nothing sappy or saccharine about two broken, emotional disasters who are still recovering from the respective hands they've each been dealt. "They've lived their romantic comedy story with others," Azaria says. "It didn't work out for either of them, so they're left in the real world fighting cynicism in their own ways, bitter and trying to move forward. It's very stumbling and real and stark, and as a result, funny, in a non-sentimental way." The British series employed black humor, but NBC's version won't be that dark. "We obviously can't be as raunchy or go as far as they did, but we're getting close, which is exciting. It doesn't feel like a network show to me," Hahn says. "Anthony's coming up with hilarious phrases that for some reason sound even worse or dirtier than they are. It's very, very funny."
4. They ultimately don't have to get together. While Alex and Helen seem like they should be together in the end — and Hahn wants them to be — it's also believable if they're not. "The truth is, in real life, people could definitely do that [an office hook-up] and stay apart," Azaria says. "So if it can happen in real life, it can happen on NBC." Regardless of whether Alex and Helen wind up together, Azaria thinks they could be at arm's length for a long time, thanks not only to their own personal issues, but to executive producer John Enbom, who created another workplace comedy, the gone-too-soon Party Down. "He was really good at keeping Adam Scott and Lizzy Caplan sort of apart together," Azaria says. "I've never asked him, but he must've done this! I'm really curious now — this ongoing approach-avoidance thing that remains interesting yet the ball moves about three inches each time. He captures it so well. He must've done it."
Free Agents premieres Wednesday at 10:30/9:30c on NBC. It moves to its regular timeslot next Wednesday at 8:30/7:30c.