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“Carpoolers” shifts into high gear

Most of my fellow Season Passers didn’t care for the pilot of “Carpoolers.” Five of nine SPers panned the show; three of us (including myself) offered guarded praise in the form of one thumbs up. Only Variety ratings guru Rick Kissell granted the show a full, double-thumbed vote of confidence.

After watching tonight’s second episode, it must be said: Kissell was right. I really dig the “Carpoolers.” So much so, I’m adding it to my Season Pass list (though my lame Time Warner Cable DVR calls it a “series recording”.)

Carpool

What some critics wrongfully dismissed as misogynist and dull– the New York Times called it “‘Bewitched’ with tollbooths”– is actually shaping up as the most unexpected surprise of the season. The four lead characters are all being fleshed out well, and are emerging as more than just cliches. All roles are well played by the cast, particularly the should-be-more-famous Fred Goss and the subtle Jerry Minor.

Most of all, “Carpoolers” has a loopy spirit about it that just makes it fun to watch. There’s the adult son named Marmaduke. A woman who only dates married men. The guys belting out “Come On, Eileen” with abandon.

At its best, “Carpoolers” comes close to channeling the spirit of the late, great “Arrested Development” (really). Part of that stems from the fact that the pilots of both shows were directed by Joe and Anthony Russo, who find a way to make even the most mundane shots interesting.

It’s been a pretty pathetic season for new comedies. NBC didn’t have the guts to try a single new sitcom, while CBS’s “Big Bang Theory” and Fox’s “Back to You” just haven’t gotten me excited, despite their solid pedigrees and winning casts. CW’s “Aliens in America” is very good stuff, but it’s on the CW, which means I’ve got to try extra hard to remember it’s on….and with “How I Met Your Mother” and “Chuck” airing against it, it’s never gonna be my first choice for the night.

But with “Carpoolers,” ABC got it right. One more episode like Tuesday’s, and I might just be ready to declare it the best new comedy of the year.

–Josef Adalian

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