After her breakthrough performances in Bridesmaids and Pitch Perfect, no one would question why Rebel Wilson has become a sought-after star, or why ABC would want to build a show around her ample and fearlessly outrageous talents. But Super Fun Night hasn't been much of a joyride so far.
The original pilot, which has been replaced by another episode for its official premiere (9:31/8:31c), elicited this reaction from me in the Fall Preview issue: "The grotesque extremes to which Wilson stoops to get laughs in this frenetic vehicle have a whiff of desperation. It might also be more fun if she used her authentic Aussie accent." The objection stands about her Americanized speech (her choice), and while the new opener is a little less degrading — instead of exposing her body on a city street with flashing lights on her underwear, a new gag involves an office elevator door shredding her dress, revealing her Spanx at work — it's not much funnier.
With the pilot episode MIA, Rebel's ebullient character of Kimmie Boubier (as in "booby-yay") uses a video diary as a tired exposition device to explain the slim premise: Kimmie, a lifelong loser and overweight geek, decides to expand her horizons when she's promoted at her law firm, taking along her best buds — Liza Lapira as nerdy Helen-Alice, Lauren Ash as butch Marika — to break free of their stay-at-home Friday night routine. "We're never going to bust out of our cocoon if we don't put our butts out there," she says of conquering her latest fear: singing in public.
Her workplace feels like a retread of elements of Sara Rue's Less Than Perfect, with a bitchy foil (Kate Jenkinson) to goad Kimmie and a nice-guy British co-worker (Kevin Bishop) whose handsomeness can't entirely disguise an inner nerd who sympathizes with Kimmie and her slapstick misadventures. Kimmie's worlds collide in the premiere at a piano bar where she and her nemesis face off in song, which is supposed to feel hilarious but comes off like an overextended Saturday Night Live sketch from the show's last half-hour.
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Another undisputed star shown to lesser advantage is the charismatic Blair Underwood, taking on the iconic role of Ironside in an NBC "re-imagining" (a word that usually means fixing what wasn't initially broken) that transforms the '70s detective from the avuncular sage played by Raymond Burr into a swaggering, unpleasantly pompous maverick. His handicap has nothing to do with a wheelchair but with a preposterous attitude that's in your face and laughably over-the-top. When the show isn't being a thuddingly ordinary procedural, it's mawkish, wasting The Killing's Brent Sexton as Ironside's shattered partner — yes, an emotional cripple. This is one of my least favorite pilots of a disappointing fall, but I wouldn't be surprised if it catches on. After all, the even more repulsive Criminal Minds is approaching its 200th episode on the same night on a different network.
PHYSICIAN, HEAL THYSELF: Remember when cable outlets like A&E and Bravo were actually devoted to the finer arts? (I know; isn't it awful to have a long memory, and taste?) If you're lucky enough to have a system that carries Ovation, the night's oddest treat is unquestionably A Young Doctor's Notebook (10/9c), a deranged dark comedy import, airing in four half-hour chapters, starring Jon Hamm and Daniel Radcliffe as two unlikely sides of the same character: a Russian doctor who as a young graduate of a Moscow academy (Radcliffe) is posted to the remote, icy wastelands, where his inexperience and youth aren't seen as assets by anyone, including him. His mordantly amusing story is framed within the memories of the doctor's desiccated older self (Hamm), who apparently experienced quite a growth spurt in his maturity. The scenes in which the older and younger versions interact, with Hamm counseling and cajoling the panicked and miserable Radcliffe as a Ghost of Torment to Come, crackle with a surreal bite. When Hamm envisions the way things were, he muses: "I saw a lot of horror and tragedy in here. Happy days." Not for the squeamish, Notebook is worth bookmarking if you've an adventurous streak.
REALITY CHECK: It's all about the chairs, something NBC's The Voice has learned to its advantage. For the next two weeks, Fox's struggling The X Factor (8/7c) will initiate a new gimmick, called "The Four Chair Challenge" — sung to the tune of "If You Can't Beat 'Em, Join 'Em" — in which the Top 40 acts will be narrowed down to a Sweet 16 (four per category, hence the musical chairs) while the judges and the audience presumably clash over their favorites. And just because someone makes it to a hot seat doesn't mean they're safe. In case you were wondering.
Other reality news: Bravo's Top Chef (10/9c) heads to one of the great capitals of culinary delight, New Orleans, for a new season of chef-tastic competition, with Tom Colicchio once again leading a judging panel that includes Gail Simmons, Hugh Acheson, NOLA legend Emeril Lagasse and host Padma Lakshmi. ... CBS's Survivor (8/7c) is teasing that a player will quit this week, and if the promos aren't lying, that's me who'll be doing a happy dance. We're also promised a blindside at tribal council and a meltdown when a family rivalry (this being the Blood vs. Water season) is exposed. ... E! expands one of its most popular franchise with The Soup Investigates (10:30/9:30c), in which Joel McHale hosts a series of mock investigations into pop culture's wackiest mysteries. ... From daytime talk to nights on the Great White Way, TVGN's special Wendy Williams: How You Doin', Broadway?! (8/7c) relives the outrageous host's summer adventure moonlighting as Mama Morton in the long-running Broadway revival of Chicago.
THE WEDNESDAY GUIDE: Cybill Shepherd guests on NBC's Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (9/8c) as a famous chef on trial after shooting a stranger she fears is a serial rapist, with Arrested Development's Jeffrey Tambor as her lawyer. And you didn't think Benson (Mariska Hargitay) would snap back so soon from her ordeal, did you? Still coping. ... ABC's The Middle (8/7c) goes back to school, with Sue exulting in an Axl-free high school and Brick adjusting to middle school, but not to his fears of bathroom bullying. ... In a particularly mopey episode of ABC's Nashville (10/9c), Oliver Hudson arrives in Music City as the record label's new boss, whose money-over-music mentality manages to rub both Juliette and a recuperating Rayna the wrong way. ... With the world counting down to her appearance this weekend on Saturday Night Live, the underexposed Miley Cyrus is the focus of an all-access MTV documentary, Miley: The Movement (10/9c), otherwise known as "Nice Twerk if You Can Stand It." ... If you need a refresher before the second season takes aim next week, CW's Arrow presents a recap special of "Year One" (8/7c). ... Showtime's 60 Minutes Sports newsmagazine (10/9c) explores the frenzy surrounding Fantasy Football, with Sharyn Alfonsi going to the source: ESPN guru Matthew Berry.