Doyle, Mork, & Bernbach
There’s definitely a tone problem with the show: violently uneven, the pilot swings from Williams’ manic, razzmatazz riffs to “American Idol”-ish musical moments to embarrassingly awkward/sexy lines to scenes between a childlike, divorced father and his adult daughter/partner that become almost maudlin.
But the feeling that Kelley was going for overall, I think, could be characterized as “zany.” That’s a sister-in-law sensibility to “wacky.” I hate both.
Also, despite his genius level of previous output (as the prolific creator of “Ally McBeal” and “Chicago Hope,” among many others), Kelley seems to understand law and medicine way better than advertising.
That said, there was some clever stuff, starting with the name, which I thought was a play of sorts on “Mad Men.” What we discover during the most cringe-worthy scene (involving Buffy being humiliated in public by Kelly Clarkson, but more on that later) is that the title is based on the Apple ad of 1997, “The Crazy Ones,” because that was what drew the Gellar character into advertising in the first place.
You see, this seemingly small and faded (but fabulously modern and lavishly appointed) Chicago agency is in danger of losing its main account, the McDonald’s business. Williams, playing an erratic, washed-up ad star (“How much does a Clio go for on eBay?” he asks at one point) tries a “Hail Mary” pass to save the account: to “upgrade” the brand by updating the 1972 “You Deserve A Break Today” jingle for a new TV commercial.
“Our concept is real beef, real potatoes,” he says, in one of several lines that could have been written during the Reagan administration.
More important, in what universe are they operating when a kajillion-dollar account could be saved by a jingle for a TV campaign? Obviously, that’s a fatally dated premise. Not only does it not acknowledge the existence of that whole, messy interwebs business, but these days, an agency of that size would probably share the account with the agency of record, plus 90 other sister-wife agencies.
But then again, this is a sitcom. Anyone in advertising at the time of “Bewitched” would probably have reacted the same way: “Why are they using a pointer to show print ads on an easel? We do television now, damn it!” (Then again, Larry Tate as the uber-kiss-ass is timeless.)
David Kelley has been quoted as saying the series was inspired by real-life Leo Burnetter John Montgomery, who worked on McDonald’s and pitched him the idea many years ago.
The problem is that using a real-life brand like McDonald’s creates a huge, fawning and overly reverent product placement that overshadows everything else. Still, in recent press accounts, all associated with the show claim that no payment changed hands, which makes that Titanic Mickey D’s plug even weirder.
Meanwhile, Williams as Roberts somehow conjures up a meeting with Kelly Clarkson, who has to be wooed to the dark side to sing the new updated jingle. But she doesn’t want to sing about “meat.” She wants to reform her own good-girl brand, and sing about sex. So the oddest (but also weirdly entertaining) scene ensues: Clarkson gets down with Bob Benson -- actually the actor James Wolk who played a mysterious, annoying account guy on “Mad Men,” but here, as Zach, becomes a breakout star.
Together in a sound booth, they sing “It Ain’t the Meat, It’s the Motion,” as Clarkson gets down with an attempt to be graphically sexy. Look away!
Williams says it’s too sexy -- that she “woke up the puppet,” which kind of made me cringe. So then daughter Gellar takes it upon herself to “pivot” Kelly to sing a family song by going into the whole Apple “Crazy Ones” riff while interrupting Kelly as she enjoys a meal in a restaurant with her “family.” (Real Kelly, fake family. Odd.)
“They didn’t even have a product to sell,” she says about those days at Apple. “They were promoting an idea.” And she lists the icons featured in it: “Gandhi, Picasso, John Lennon, Martin Luther King, Jr.” Clarkson shoots back one of the best lines: “Were they paid?”
Interesting to bring that up, because what bothers me as much as the “unpaid” McDonald’s placement is the towering (and fetching) line drawing of Williams that decorates the agency lobby It’s an obvious rip-off of Keith Haring. Did the artist’s foundation get paid for that?
Overall, the show made me sad. The sometimes-desperate tone of the debut reminded me of hearing the “Attention must be paid!” speech that wife Linda delivers at Willy Loman’s funeral in “Death of a Salesman.”
The show is an elegy for so many things: Robin Williams’ career, Sarah Michelle Gellar’s career, network television, the 22-minute sitcom, the 30-second spot, the jingle, and everything else that is becoming history.
But don’t cry for the The Crazy Ones”: It killed in the ratings, holding onto the lion’s share of “The Big Bang Theory”’s gargantuan audience to register 15.61 million viewers. It also clobbered the new Michael J. Fox show’s premiere on NBC.
My final vote: only 98% terrible. Based on all the Mork and Buffy fans out there, it will probably float for a couple of seasons.
What they should concentrate on is rolling back the network TV-style slickness. The opening -- featuring kids auditioning for a cookie commercial -- was great, as it seemed to include bloopers from the actual shoot.
And given the hugely talented cast and great look of the show, it might even become new and improved.