Hidden beneath conventional plots and stereotypical characters, there's a funny show struggling to emerge from ABC's "Carpoolers" (8:30 tonight, WTAE) but it's not about carpoolers or any of the main characters. It's the slacker son of one of the main characters who brings the funny to an otherwise patented ABC CSDC (Comedy Series Devoid of Comedy).
The concept for "Carpoolers" is inherently limited because, well, there's little that's actually funny about guys who ride to work together in the same car. Even throwing standard sitcom stories at it doesn't help (the jealous husband who gets his comeuppance, the deceitful husband who gets his comeuppance).
The characters, too, are all types. There's middle-aged white guy, Gracen (Fred Goss), who feels impotent when he suspects his wife (Faith Ford) earns more than he does; super-dad Aubrey (Jerry Minor), whose wife is lazy, requiring him to be the primary breadwinner and caretaker of their many, many children; divorced ladies' man Laird (Jerry O'Connell) and over-eager newcomer Dougie (Tim Peper).
- When: 8:30 tonight, ABC.
- Starring: Jerry O'Connell.
Written by Bruce McCullough (one of the "Kids in the Hall"), there's little that's surprising let alone interesting about "Carpoolers" despite the best efforts of an enthusiastic cast, most notably O'Connell. The show's one area of success is in its attempts to be absurd, but it tiptoes so gently into that realm that's it's easy to miss it.
In tonight's premiere, there's a scene in a parking lot where the carpool gets frustrated by a Geezer Carpool that moves too slowly. The guys are also challenged for a parking space by the Fancy Carpool that drives a more expensive car. The notion of different carpool types is kind of fun and could bear some comedic fruit if drawn out to an absurd degree, but "Carpoolers" just hints at it.
Likewise, the introduction of Gracen's slacker son, Marmaduke (T.J. Miller), doesn't seem like cause for much notice in tonight's premiere, but a future episode reveals him to be the show's only saving grace. The writers obviously realize this, too, and appear to be writing more for the character in that subsequent episode.
Marmaduke is a dumb, overgrown baby, and yet Miller also endows him with a degree of sweetness. His leaps of logic and uncanny knack for worming his way into a plot that begins with the carpool members make him memorable.
But sticking with the show and digging into it to find appreciation in a secondary character is more work than should be required and asks more than most viewers are willing to give. For that reason, "Carpoolers" is a trip to skip.