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Sean Hayes has many talents: He sings, he dances, he inspires me to buy Will and Grace box sets. But as last night proved, his trademark frantic energy isn’t exactly enough to carry a workplace/family sitcom.
Sean Saves the World strives to be both funny and relatable. In practice, it’s both of these things at varying — but rarely intersecting — times. The first scene opens with Sean, a grown man, sticking a metal knife deep, deep into the depths of a broken toaster. Luckily, he’s just acquired his daughter, Ellie (Samantha Isler) as a new roommate; perhaps she can teach him about electrical currents.
Over breakfast, Sean establishes that it’s time he and Ellie get to bonding, because that’s a thing 9th graders are into doing with their parents. Ellie responds by reasonably asking how Sean — a gay man — and her mother — a straight woman — conceived her in the first place. Sean does not think it is so reasonable. He reacts by flailing at every metal object in his kitchen. Flailing is key to cueing this show’s laugh track.
Sean comes around and explains his sexual orientation’s trajectory: “Gay. Tried not to be. Was. Was again. Was one more time because it was not unpleasant. Am.” Sean Hayes proves his worth with lines like these. It’s just too bad that before this family comedy transitions into a workplace comedy, Sean spends so much time proclaiming himself to be a parent — as parents are wont to do, lest we forget that they are parents.
The workplace section introduces Megan Hilty and Echo Kellum as Sean’s co-workers and Thomas Lennon as their mean new boss, to whom everyone keeps accidentally saying “I love you.” (If you’ve never accidentally done this on the phone while speaking to, say, the pizza man who will be arriving at your house in 30-40 minutes, consider yourself lucky.) Thomas Lennon is hilarious in most anything he does, and here, he’s really bringing his A-game — his voice is so deep and semi-British! His mustache is so prominent! But funny actors — and Hayes, Kellum (also great on Ben and Kate) and Lennon truly are — alone can’t make a funny sitcom.
I did like that the pilot treated its hook (gay dad) as nothing more than what it is: normal. In general, though, this show is just a little too normal. It’s a blank canvas that elicited more laughs from me than expected, but also left me thinking exactly one thing: “Why on earth is this show called Sean Saves the World?” With sharper writing, Hayes’s latest could possibly crank out a season or two. But it might be best to just free up these actors for more interesting projects.
Sean Saves the World airs Thursdays at 9:00 p.m. ET on NBC