Whether because of countless delays, exorbitant fees, lost baggage, or forcing a paying customer to give his seat to an employee, the airline industry has a reputation for screwing over the people it’s intended to serve, making it as unlikely a setting for a successful sitcom as a cable company’s customer service center or, you know, Congress. Yet that unlikely nature is part of what makes the premiere of FOX’s newest sitcom, LA to Vegas, so funny.
From the onset, the series is fully aware just how dreary air travel has become, but rather than present that fact from the perspective of the clientele being endlessly shuffled on and off flying metal tubes like so much cattle, LA to Vegas presents essentially the same outlook from a different but no less screwed over perspective: the disaffected employees working for the airline. In this case, the setting is a discount commuter airline servicing passengers traveling from Los Angeles to Las Vegas, which, considering the Bacchanalian reputation the latter has so willingly cultivated for itself, stands to generate any number of scenarios befitting a series set almost entirely inside the cramped confines of an airliner.
Like Taxi, NewsRadio, or even Cheers, LA to Vegas is blessed with a title that establishes the setting and, by virtue of it being a workplace sitcom, pretty much explains all you need to know about the premise as well. Throw in a mustachioed Dylan McDermott dressed in a pilot’s uniform and turning the dial on likable smarminess all the way to eleven, and add an ensemble cast that includes Peter Stormare and The Mindy Project’s Ed Weeks, as frequent flyers, and you have a fairly promising concept. But it’s in the show’s execution of that concept that makes the idea of spending roughly twenty-one claustrophobic minutes a week with these characters actually appealing.
Though technically an ensemble, a great deal of LA to Vegas is told from the perspective of Kim Matula’s Ronnie, a flight attendant soured on the idea of her job and who’s desperate to transition to a more glamorous route, one that doesn’t cater to degenerate gamblers, partygoers, and soon-to-be-divorced couples. Though Ronnie’s harried introduction is one of many obvious jokes about air travel that hopefully the writers will get out of their system within the first few episodes, Matula’s underdressed sprint to the terminal is admirable for the economic way it establishes the character. The same goes for McDermott’s Captain Dave, who is first seen in an airport bar announcing he’ll take one more for the road — before assuring everyone he’s just drinking club soda. Though somewhat tired, the joke is like Ronnie’s last-minute scramble to her post: it works as shorthand for who these people are, and how they’ve become products of their environment.
And while McDermott’s shallow but (probably) sensitive Captain Dave and Matula’s somewhat bitter but hopeful Ronnie each add something essential to the series, and both are very funny in their roles, the environment in which they work is the show’s biggest draw. LA to Vegas is keenly aware that the glamor and excitement of air travel was tossed to the tarmac long ago, leaving passengers to deal with the blight of overbooking and the refusal of airlines to accept that legroom is a necessity not a convenience. And it’s in that sense of communal misery that the show finds its allure and so much of its comedy.
Just as Cheers became more than a workplace comedy by focusing its attention on characters at and behind the bar, LA to Vegas establishes scenarios set to do the same. The show’s concept being what it is, there’s endless potential for guest appearances and memorable one-off or recurring rones as eccentric passengers; a concept proven by Stormare’s Artem, a low-level bookmaker willing to take odds on just about anything. It’s also apparent in Weeks’ Colin, his soon-to-be ex-wife Meghan (Kether Donahue), and in the clearly doomed lovebirds whose thwarted elopement in Sin City leads to an unlikely new vocation for one half of the couple. The series sets the stage for Colin and Artem to function much like Norm and Cliff, which makes the comparison of Captain Dave to Ted Danson’s Sam Malone all the more fitting.
As with the well-coifed barman, Captain Dave likes to keep things casual, from his romantic relationships to his duties in the cockpit — which overlap more than the DOT would likely prefer — making the aviator the source and butt of a good number of successful jokes in the pilot episode. The ability to play against type and exaggerate his on-screen presence without descending into a full-on spoof of himself puts McDermott in charge of some of the biggest laughs early on in the series. As funny as he is, the show’s writers wisely leave room for Captain Dave to become more than an ace lothario and fount of dad jokes, so that, should the series continue, he’ll have time to develop into a more rounded character — albeit one who can choke out an unruly passenger with his knees.
As far as pilots go, LA to Vegas delivers an honestly funny and promising comedy. The series effectively gives stock workplace comedy scenarios a fresh spin by successfully turning the cramped confines of a commercial jetliner into a place you actually want to spend time in.
LA to Vegas continues next Tuesday with ‘The Yips and the Dead’ @9pm on FOX.