The convenient shorthand for “Susan 313” is “failed comedy pilot,” but one viewing illustrates how inadequate that phrase is.
The halfhour program starring Sarah Silverman unveiled on Jash.com today, roughly 18 months after NBC decided not to greenlight it for its 2012-13 primetime schedule, and two things are immediately apparent: that it’s better than almost every other comedy NBC has (admittedly, not a big number), yet no doubt so niche that it’s little surprise that the Peacock passed.
Not even Silverman seems to have any hard feelings about it, saying that NBC “probably did the right thing.”
Though hardly flawless, “Susan 313” takes an original approach with Silverman’s voice (she co-wrote with Dan Sterling and Jon Schroeder) and parlays it into something pretty clever, with the added benefit of sneaking in some deep questions about relationships and ambition. Nifty supporting work from Tig Notaro, Harris Wittels, June Diane Raphael, Ken Leung and Jeff Goldblum suits things well.
If the humor occasionally comes across as self-conscious, it’s still nicely sardonic— increasingly so as the pilot progresses. And the pilot leaves open story possibilities, rather than the fear that they’ve used their best stuff up in one shot.
Once upon a not-so-long-ago time, NBC might have seemed like the broadcast home for such a show, but it placed its bets for 2012-13 on such comedies as “Animal Practice,” “Go On,” “Guys with Kids” and “The New Normal” — none of which survived to season two. Now, the Peacock’s current direction seems to favor broader humor like “Sean Saves the World” or more easily digestible fare like “The Michael J. Fox Show.”
Perhaps the most comparable recent NBC show for “Susan 313” would be “Whitney,” which struggled through two seasons before calling it a day in the spring, but though star and exec producer Whitney Cummings has her darker qualities, “Whitney” was still a level more traditional.
A 20th Century Fox Television production, “Susan 313” also might have been a good teammate for Fox’s “New Girl” or “The Mindy Project,” if it wasn’t enough work keeping their ratings afloat.
Instead, when you watch “Susan 313” and in particular its meta-commentary on itself, it’s hard not to think of programs like FX’s innovative “Louie” and IFC’s rough-edged “Maron” — halfhours that don’t demand a wide audience, much less one right out of the gate. (Silverman herself, of course, had “The Sarah Silverman Program” for three seasons at Comedy Central.) Not only would it have removed the immediate pressure, but “Susan” would have been even more free to march to its own drummer.
You can pretty much count on 20th having shopped “Susan 313” around after NBC passed, and it’s hard to imagine a cable network not having been interested in “Susan 313” for artistic reasons — it far surpasses the necessary threshold. The question, as it always is in Hollywood for any revival, theoretical or otherwise, would have been whether the economics made sense.