Based on the British comedy of the same name, Free Agents represents one of the three new comedies that NBC is bringing into its 2011 fall television lineup. While not as strong as its time-slot partner Up All Night, Free Agents is still far ahead of the upcoming Whitney Cummings series, Whitney.
Created by to the brilliant mind behind Starz’ cult series Party Down, John Enbom, and the man behind the short-lived British version, Chris Niel, Free Agents presents a wonderfully hilarious platform for Hank Azaria to shine as the newly divorced (and completely distraught) Alex who, in an attempt to “get back on the horse again,” falls into a repetitive sexual relationship with his co-worker Helen (Kathryn Hahn), who has yet to come to terms with the death of her fiancé.
Unfortunately, the overall lack of chemistry between Azaria and Hahn’s characters make it impossible to believe that Alex’s interest in Helen is anything more than sexual. Additionally, while Azaria is more than able to pull off the dry wit that makes up the majority of his character, the whole “missing my kids” angle feels completely forced and, therefore, unrealistic as well.
While these two problems may appear insignificant in their own right, the fact the series is built upon these two poorly realized elements means that the overall success of Free Agents is dependent on whether or not they’re able to competently execute on these story arcs. In it’s current form, they do not. Fortunately, there are enough signs to show that, as the series progresses, these issues will (hopefully) be resolved.
Outside of the core relationship between Alex and Helen, Free Agents provides a surprisingly rich environment in the fictional PR firm of Hale Bayton & Associates, which is rife with a myriad of odd characters that not only help drive the series’ comedic aspirations, but also serve as the perfect spring board for Azaria’s naturally delivered quips and references (Death of a Salesman, anyone?).
Heading up the rag-tag team of Hale Bayton & Associates is Buffy the Vampire Slayer Alum Anthony Head, who is masterfully reprising his role from the original British version as Alex and Helen’s sex obsessed boss, Stephen.
Rounding out the rest of HB&A team is Mo Mandel as “ladies man” Dan, Natasha Leggero as the bitchy executive assistant, Al Madrigal as the happily oblivious married man, and Joe Lo Truglio as the sword wielding, meat cutting, security guard. For all intents and purposes, Head and the rest of the supporting cast of Free Agents are not only perfectly cast, but are also exceptionally well executed.
Even though it can certainly be said the Free Agents could most certainly work as a straight-up comedy without the need of the romantic storyline or the troubled father drama, you’ve got to give Enbom and Niel credit for wanting to initially present a more fully realized vision to their series, even if certain parts aren’t as successfully implemented.
Because, as the history of television has shown, if Free Agents were simply a edgy comedy with Azaria playing the proverbial straight-man, audiences will eventually (and rightfully) want and expect more from the series and from its characters as the show progresses.
Despite a few core flaws that could very well lead Free Agents to cancelation, there’s more than enough quick-witted humor and intriguing characters to have you tuning in for at a few more weeks. Hopefully, by then, these minor (though major) issues will have been fixed.
Free Agents airs Wednesday @8:30pm on NBC
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