I watched one of the most painful 1/2 hours of television "comedy" last night. It was "The Loop," a most implausible show about a young airline executive, Sam, in Chicago and his wacky homelife with three twenty-something roommates: a) his slacker older brother, Sully, b) a hottie, blonde bartender, Lizzy, and c) Piper, the girl who is his secret crush but is in the middle of a long-distance relationship with her college boyfriend.
We usually do not watch pilots of sit-coms, because we tend to watch exactly two hours of American network television a week and have no desire to increase that amount. But, we decided to give this one a chance for two reasons: 1) Jason works in airline management and has been saying for years that someone should write a television show about the hilarious and dramatic antics of people in airline management (as opposed to writing yet more shows about doctors, lawyers, crime scene investigators, and cops) and 2) we enjoyed Bret Harrison (the main character) when he was on "Grounded for Life."
First of all, Bret Harrison was the best thing about the show. And that is the last positive thing to say. None of the other characters were likable. They were either non-personalities, like the secret crush character, Piper, or they were annoying, like the slacker older brother, or they were disgusting, like Meryl (played by Mimi Rogers), a completely over-the-top portrayal of a predatory female executive. I just did not care about anyone involved or anything that was going on. The pacing was frantic, and, for once, I kept looking at my watch, hoping for a commercial break to have the chance to see plots unfolding at a leisurely pace. By the way, the Volkswagen commercials for the new GTI contain more humor in 30 seconds than this lame show was able to spin out in 30 minutes. And, the entire show was absurd, but not good absurd -- bad absurd, insulting absurd, and, most unforgivable, boring absurd.
There was this whole sub-plotline about employee non-rev travel vouchers' needing to "cycle through" the system, involving an extensive paper trail that made absolutely no sense. Does this guy work for Pan Am in 1950? Plus, the boss kept calling meetings inexplicably at the airport, which was inexplicably played by LAX. Then Sam had a stripe of hair on his head shaven as a prank by Sully, and somehow didn't realize this until the predatory Meryl was running her fingers through his hair in the morning at the office, telling me that this executive does not find it necessary to shower before he arrives at work.
The dialogue was so heavy-handed. The characters delivered their lines like they were weighed down with jet lag. The boss ... the female VP ... the slacker ... even Sam ... these could have all been characters written with sparkling subtlety, but they were really betrayed by writers who have no sense of a well-turned phrase. You wonder, seriously, if these people have ever even spoken with airline employees (or other humans) or ever worked in a professional corporate environment. There is a lot of humor hidden in the seeming conformity of American corporate life. This subversive hilarity has been captured before in such movies as Office Space, and even in television's "The Office." "The Loop" went for the cheap or redundant shots -- the butt-grabbing executive, the gruff, almost nonsensical, vulgarity of the boss, the whining, over-qualified assistant who includes a recitation of her MIT credentials with every spoken line.
I think that much of what makes comedy work is a certain grounding in reality, and then that reality's unexpectedly skewing, or in having the surreal coexist with a certain level of oblivion with prosaic banality. That comforting sense of reality needs to be established early on, whether in factual details or in authentically written and delivered dialogue, so that credibility is built with the audience -- then, you turn them upside-down with pricks of the unexpected, and their natural reaction is to laugh. "The Loop" is unable to achieve either of those comedic premises, and so it fails to generate humor. And that is a shame, since it might discourage television writers to plumb the depths of the airline business in the future for the comic gold buried within.
There, you've been warned: Stay out of "The Loop."