Of all the streaming sites that are currently airing original programming, Yahoo Screen might be the most intriguing — and it might also have the most to prove. Netflix has a solid, successful formula, with a good blend of comedy and drama. Amazon is sticking to inventive projects such as Transparent and Mozart in the Jungle (as well as a slew of fun children’s programming). Hulu is slowly but surely figuring itself out by going for obvious draws: a supernatural stoner comedy, a parody of The Real Housewives franchise, and, soon, an adaptation of Stephen King’s 11/22/63 about a time traveler trying to save JFK — starring James Franco. Yahoo Screen is fairly new to most viewers (prior to this month, it was known mostly for Burning Love), so it has a lot of catching up to do. Unfortunately, its new series, Sin City Saints, doesn’t seem likely to help much.
The one clear thing about Yahoo Screen so far is its commitment to comedy. First there was Burning Love, which was eventually syndicated on E! Then, last year, Yahoo swooped in and saved Community from its NBC cancellation, proving that those in charge understand the value of anchoring their streaming site with an established sitcom (and established hashtag) — and, more importantly, a sitcom that already has a devoted fan base. (This move was reminiscent of Netflix reviving Arrested Development.) The two original half-hour series that Yahoo Screen announced at the time were also comedies: Sin City Saints, which launched on Monday, and Other Space, an offbeat, space-centric sitcom from Bridesmaids director and Freaks and Geeks creator Paul Feig. Yahoo’s pickup of a Feig project is important because it speaks to the site’s interest in big names (Dan Harmon on Community, Tom Arnold starring in Sin City Saints) and its awareness that nostalgia works well on the Internet; fans still haven’t gotten over the heartbreaking cancellation of Freaks.
Community is a story in and of itself — the Season 6 premiere was good, but it was expected to be — but Sin City Saints is the first show that is meant to be representative of the streaming site. But if Sin City Saints is any indication, Yahoo Screen hasn’t quite nailed its comedic brand yet. The show follows a Silicon Valley tech-bro tycoon, Jake (Andrew Santino, Mixology), who buys the titular basketball team solely because he can. Egotism and narcissism are two traits that are abundant in sports and therefore lend themselves well to sports-centric comedies. But when it comes to Jake, these qualities are more obnoxious than humorous, making us dislike him rather than love to hate him. Most of the humor comes from how unqualified he is to run this team: In the pilot, he runs over star player LaDarius Pope (Keith Powers) with the “pope mobile” and temporarily renders him unable to play. In subsequent episodes, he fails to deal with a catfishing situation (which at least brings a somewhat clever twist), recruits a player by giving him hallucinogenic tea (causing a public breakdown in a casino), and gets caught up in a scandal in which the team’s coach is caught on tape spewing racist and homophobic nonsense.
To balance out Jake’s antics, lawyer Dusty Halford (Malin Ackerman) is brought in to try and keep things running somewhat smoothly. She’s the typical tough, hard-ass boss woman who clashes with the loose, spontaneous man-child in a scenario that we’ve seen multiple times on television. Sin City Saints doesn’t bring anything new to formula, especially since there’s really not much change at stake here. Dusty can’t exactly tell Jake what to do because, early in the series, he acquires dirt on her. (Spoiler: she sleeps with a 17-year-old, unaware of his age, because she’s so broken and sad about her divorce; her divorce, by the way, is basically the only thing that defines her personality.) Ackerman, who was wonderful on the short-lived Trophy Wife, does her best with the role but isn’t given much to work with. Rounding out the cast is Tom Arnold as Kevin Freeman, a private casino host, who mostly hangs around and drops unfunny lines. Like most of his cast mates, Arnold doesn’t seem too interested in his role, but he makes do.
Aside from some lazy, racial humor in later episodes of the series, there’s nothing explicitly unfunny about Sin City Saints. The problem is that the jokes are rarely funny enough to elicit laughs. Instead, you’ll find yourself nodding in a way that says, “Yeah, sure, I get why this is supposed to be funny.” After watching five episodes, only one joke stands out in my memory — a running gag featuring Jake’s incompetent secretary rushing into the office to announce his visitors long after they’ve announced themselves. That isn’t a good number for a sitcom. It’s an especially bad number for what is essentially Yahoo Screen’s flagship original sitcom, the one that the site is debuting to define its comedic brand.