The new comedy, premiering Wednesday night on ABC, stars Rebel Wilson. It was conceived by Rebel Wilson. It’s written by Rebel Wilson. Super Fun Night, then, is Rebel Wilson, so it was supposed to be great.
It’s not. And that may be fall TV’s biggest bummer.
The show centers around Kimmie Boubier (Wilson), a lawyer whose career takes off so she figures it’s about her time her social life does, too. That social life has, for the past 13 years, consisted of staying at home with her two introverted, odd-ball roommates (Liza Lapira and Lauren Ash). After being promoted at work, Kimmie decides it’s time to take their “super fun night” out on the town, with each episode depicting the ensuing social train wreck.
It’s a simple enough premise: you like Rebel Wilson, so come watch her have fun.
The 27-year-old Australian actress didn’t so much break out in the past year as explode. Her scene-stealing turn in Bridesmaids as Kristen Wiig’s off-kilter roommate was followed up by a movie-stealing performance as the personification of hilarious self-assuredness, Fat Amy, in Pitch Perfect.
Wilson was an unusual and refreshing new comedy presence in Hollywood. A sitcom conceived by, written by, and starring her understandably ignited an inferno of buzz.
Super Fun Night’s pilot was made available to critics for screening earlier this summer. They quickly extinguished that fire.
The pilot was supposed to be a comedy of errors about the girls’ first night out at a club, where Kimmie tries to impress her hot British co-worker. As they self-consciously struggle to fit in, they’re repeatedly belittled and shamed by “cooler” people. The goal, presumably, was to make the audience laugh along with these girls, who defiantly strive to have their super-fun night in the face of mockery. But with everyone else laughing at them, the only thing to do was cringe.
The most baffling aspect of the pilot, however, was the decision to ditch Wilson’s sing-songy Australian accent for a distractingly bad American one. It’s egregious on the level of an American screaming “cheerio, pip pip!” at the beginning of every sentence and claiming it as a passable British accent. More than that, it muffles what makes Wilson funny: her comedic voice. Laboring through already shoddy material without her natural delivery to fall back on—the delivery we fell in love with—Wilson just can’t land a joke.
It’s almost as if ABC was content to let Wilson do whatever she wanted to do, just so the network could tout a show by a rising star—and under the assumption that her star power would be enough to sell the show. (CBS wisely passed on an earlier version of the pilot Wilson created for the previous TV season.)
“Instead of coming up with a show, then having Wilson take the starring role,” The A.V. Club’s Todd VanDerWerff writes, ABC “came up with the personality it wanted at the center of a show, any show, then threw a bunch of half-formed ideas at a wall.”
After the critics unleashed their deluge of negative response to the planned pilot, ABC decided to scrap it and premiere what was originally intended as Episode 2 on Wednesday night. The super-fun night in this episode is karaoke, with Kimmie attempting, once again, to impress her hot British co-worker, but this time through song—a shrewd, if blatant, attempt at capitalizing on Wilson’s Pitch Perfect popularity.
The episode is a slight improvement on the pilot. The climactic karaoke scene is rather enjoyable. Not so pleasant, however, are the lazy digs at Wilson’s weight. Presumably we’re supposed to find Wilson’s incessant self-deprecation somehow empowering, like a veiled form of self-confidence. But the frequency of the weight-related punchlines, not to mention the droll way in which Wilson delivers them, ends up being depressing.
In one scene, she races through the halls of her law firm in a panic. Why? “Gary just tweeted that there are jelly doughnuts in the break room,” she says. Heh. She’s introduced to a colleague, but they have already met at a conference. “During one of the breaks, I’m the girl who got her hand stuck in the vending machine.” Har. “Cute shoes, by the way—what are they?” the colleague asks. “Orthopedics,” Kimmie replies.
“There are broad attempts to appeal to whatever core audience Wilson brings with her, both by having her do big, broad physical comedy and by having her sing,” writes VanDerWerff, pointing out the biggest difference between the planned pilot and the episode airing Wednesday night. “It all feels very safe. That’s an improvement over catastrophic, but it’s weirdly more disappointing.”
The frustrating thing isn’t the jokes. They’d probably be forgivable on one of those lazy, paint-by-numbers multicam sitcoms. What’s frustrating is that for all the promise Wilson brought with her of a new, smart, exciting kind of sitcom humor, the product is a retread, dumbed down, and, mostly, devoid of the kind of joy Wilson brought to her breakout roles.
You watch, and you wonder: where’s the fun we were promised?
Wilson’s “innate awesomeness is almost entirely squandered here,” writes the Huffington Post’s Maureen Ryan. “Super Fun Night isn’t just bad, it’s infuriatingly bad, given Wilson’s likability, game energy and overall potential as a TV personality.”
The resounding sentiment is that Wilson deserves better. “She finds herself a vehicle that isn’t as big and buoyant as her personality,” writes Variety’s Brian Lowry. “Wilson, usually so full of energy, seems muted and adrift here, and the character she’s playing isn’t playing to her edgy strengths,” writes IGN’s Eric Goldman.
Pitch Perfect is playing incessantly now on HBO and is available anytime on its HBO Go platform. If you’re jonesing for a “super fun night,” maybe you should watch that instead.