In the current TV era when networks careen from playing too safe to taking oddball chances, Fox's "Breaking In" fits right in. It's a strange little show: a lighthearted half-hour caper that purports to be a comedy but isn't really that funny.
It's amusing at times but, at best, it produces just a few chuckles. This is not an unheard of phenomenon -- look no further than HBO's "Hung" or "How to Make It in America" for proof -- but it is a questionable trend.
When viewers watch a half-hour show, especially on a broadcast network, they expect to laugh. It doesn't have to be a sustained belly laugh, but viewers want to connect to the characters, and they want to smile. Showtime's "Nurse Jackie" and "United States of Tara" entertain in this way with sly humor and recognizable character traits.
But "Breaking In" (9:30 tonight, WPGH) both tries too hard (look at the sci-fi-obsessed geek!) and not hard enough (the office veteran who resents the newcomer -- really, isn't that trope played out?).
Although Christian Slater is the show's big-name star as the boss at Contra Security, the "Breaking In" pilot is told from the point of view of new hire Cameron (Bret Harrison, "Reaper"), who butts heads with former company golden boy Josh (Trevor Moore, "Whitest Kids U'Know") and makes friends with gadget-maker Cash (Alphonso McAuley). Cameron also lusts after lock pick Melanie (Odette Annable), who has a meathead boyfriend, Dutch (Michael Rosenbaum, "Smallville").
Contra tests client's security measures so the clients can make improvements before real thieves strike. In tonight's premiere, Cameron is tasked with stealing a car, a goal that's thwarted by a jealous co-worker.
At this point, Mr. Harrison has played the put-upon guy so many times ("The Loop," "Reaper"), he can sleepwalk through the role, but he remains a charming star despite failing to find the right TV vehicle. Mr. Slater doesn't have much presence in the show; his character is almost an afterthought: coming in to offer words of wisdom, chomp on a cigar and then disappear, allowing the story to return to its natural focus on Cameron and his co-workers.
Actress Jennifer Irwin makes the most of her small role as an odd office assistant, and Mr. Moore entertains when his character is in disguise and playing someone other than Josh, who's just annoying.
But the biggest problem with "Breaking In" is that it may be too well broken in -- there's little here that's original.
A version of this story first appeared in Tuned In Journal blog at post-gazette.com/tv. TV writer Rob Owen: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-2582. Follow RobOwenTV on Twitter or Facebook.