This partly improved TBS comedy is set in a grocery store, which makes it even more conspicuous that the product is so stale. Coming on the tail end of a slew of improvicoms, “10 Items or Less” labors too hard at being clever and occasionally teeters into shrill mode where a half-dozen characters are all yelling at each other simultaneously. The Turner-backed net is making a concerted push into series, but based on an initial sampling, this is the least appealing new item on its shelves.
Co-creator John Lehr comes from an improv background and brings a sprightly, Ellen DeGeneres-type persona to the role of Leslie Pool, the heir to a local Ohio grocery store, Greens & Grains, which he runs with tone-deaf sincerity. Surrounded by a posse of eccentric employees, he’s nearly oblivious to threats in the first hour leveled by a former classmate (“Lovespring International’s” Jennifer Elise Cox) who represents Super Value Mart, a Wal-Mart-like chain determined to either acquire or destroy him.
Not surprisingly, the staff harbors various ambitions that all seem plucked out of a “Saturday Night Live” sketch, from the cashier (Christopher Liam Moore) who yearns to be a professional ice dancer to the butcher (Chris Payne Gilbert) with plans to join the stock-car circuit.
Even at its best (translation: “Curb Your Enthusiasm”), improv can be a hit-and-mostly-miss proposition, and the backdrop and characters here aren’t distinct enough to prevent a rapid descent into the most banal kind of jokes, among them: Who had sex with whom at a company picnic. Nor does it help that Lehr’s dense, eager-to-please doofus is so bland and boring, contributing to an atmosphere that’s inoffensive but not particularly interesting.
Every cable net (and a few broadcasters) has seemingly felt compelled to take a whack at its own comedy with some improv element, and inasmuch as “10 Items” kicks off a new latenight block, the risks are relatively low. Nevertheless, after a stroll through this wacky market, there ought to be a race to the checkout line.