There’s an unofficial hierarchy of Comedy Central shows. Over the past few years, the channel has rolled out some of the most innovative and critically acclaimed series on television, full stop: the star-making Inside Amy Schumer, the slow-motion tragicomedy Review, and the postmodern prank show Nathan for You, to name just a handful. They exist side-by-side with the dependable stalwarts, the series that continue to churn out episode after well-rated episode as the buzz either fades (Workaholics) or turns reflexively hostile (Tosh.0), with South Park‘s recent return to prominence as the exception that proves the rule.
And in between, there’s what might be called Comedy Central’s B-list of shows that haven’t quite caught on, but survive nonetheless: your Drunk Historys, your Another Periods, your Big Time in Hollywood, FLs. Thanks to its anthology format, Drunk History still has its moments, as does Another Period, a costume-drama satire effectively silly enough to have a devoted viewer in yours truly. But there’s a definite barrier between these shows and the ecstatically championed likes of Broad City — and Idiotsitter seems fated to stay firmly on the former side.
Created by and starring Groundlings alumni and longtime writing partners Jillian Bell (Workaholics, natch) and Charlotte Newhouse, Idiotsitter began as a web series — the new pilot, judging by the likes of High Maintenance and the brand spanking new Teachers — hosted on Comedy Central’s website. Now it’s graduated to the channel lineup proper, though the premise allows for the kind of un-flashy, low-budget production values that are the web series’ calling card: Bell’s character, a rich party girl whose development is decidedly arrested, has landed herself on house arrest, keeping the locations limited to her family’s balled-out McMansion and not much else.
As we learn in the opening scene, where she drunkenly berates some cops from atop a stolen pony, Gene is the titular idiot. Her sitter and straight woman is Billie (Newhouse), a prudish Harvard grad buried in a pile of student debt. Under the pretense of finding an actual babysitter for a seven-year-old, Gene’s dad (the incomparable Stephen Root, the only actor alive I would literally watch read the phone book) lures Billie into applying for the position of Gene’s court-appointed guardian, leaving him free to skip town for Japanese meditation retreats and the like whenever he pleases. Mismatched personalities? Check. Improbable circumstances binding said personalities together? Check. We’ve got a buddy comedy on our hands!
The character beats for the rest of the season are locked into place as soon as Billie and Gene — see what they did there? — enter the same frame. The Billy Madison type, who needs to earn her GED in order to avoid prison, will learn discipline and maturity; the Mr. Belvedere type will learn assertiveness and spontaneity. Both will learn not to hate each other, mostly through the pop culture references that serve as an early, charming running gag. (Their shared passions include American History X, because Ed Norton, and Dirty Dancing, because Billie self-identifies as “the disapproving older sister who never did another movie.”)
These jokes land well enough, but most of the humor rests on Bell’s increasingly outrageous, adult-baby schtick, in which her character repeatedly lashes out when asked, for the first time in her life, to do anything vaguely approaching responsible. This promises to age quickly, albeit not as quickly as the man-children film comedies of the mid-aughts, driven as they were by the same dynamic. There’s only so many times one can watch a temper tantrum, however hilarious, before one’s inner stern parent gets exasperated and starts craving something else.
Idiotsitter‘s biggest problem, however, may be that it exists in the shadow of Broad City, another female duo-driven former web series on whose success this show seems designed to capitalize. Part of Broad City‘s greatness is its refusal to fall into the simplistic dichotomy of The Wild Child vs. The Sensible One, the same dichotomy that’s the foundation of Idiotsitter as a series. Abbi and Ilana’s dynamic is just that — dynamic, and remarkably astute about the ways in which friendship often boils down to mutual encouragement/enabling. Billie and Gene’s connection, on the other hand, promises to remain a one-way street, and the show they anchor another addition to the entertaining-but-inessential portion of Comedy Central’s lineup.
Idiotsitter premieres Thursday at 10:30 pm on Comedy Central.