Raw and frantic though it may be, “Everything’s Relative” is funnier than any comedy NBC has managed to launch this season (with the possible exception of “Wind on Water,” which wasn’t supposed to be a comedy). In a season littered with punchless atrocities like “Encore! Encore!” and “Conrad Bloom,” it at least tries to push the sitcom envelope with some clever, original devices. And, hey, say this for the show: unlike many other primetime sitcoms the Peacock has developed over the past few years, this ain’t about a single woman in New York!
It also helps that the midseason entry boasts real talent in leads Jeffrey Tambor, fresh from a triumphant run as the legendary Hank Kingsley on HBO’s “Larry Sanders Show,” and Jill Clayburgh, who appears unfairly to have been put out to pasture due Aging Actress Syndrome. Clayburgh, who is just starting to reappear after her run as a 1970s box office star, is still a vibrant performer with plenty of mileage left. It’s great to have her back.
Whether “Everything’s Relative” is the vehicle that powers Clayburgh back into the steady flow of Hollywood traffic remains to be seen. And indeed, the opening seg, like so many pilots, flails around to find its footing before steadying itself in a much more inspired second show next week. It likewise would be easy to predict that the sitcom is a mite too stereotypically Jewish in its sensibility to click with the masses, but all bets are clearly off on that score after “Seinfeld.”
In this one, we have your basic dysfunctional family plagued by overbearing parents and a pair of grown sons who bear all of the typical scars suffered by Adult Children of Neurotics (ACN for short). At the center of this foolishness we find Leo Gorelick (Kevin Rahm), a hypersensitive comedy writer who never seems to have any time to actually write. His type-A brother Marty (Eric Schaeffer) is a twice-divorced doctor who is too busy whining to to treat any patients.
Then again, Leo and Marty never had a chance as the product of not just a broken home but a home shattered into tiny rubble. Their dad, Jake (Tambor), is a narcissistic, overbearing putz (see Hank Kingsley), too busy looking in the mirror to notice the world. Jake has been divorced for better than 20 years from Mickey (Clayburgh), who spends her days devising ways to invade Leo’s space and is deluded just enough to carry a flickering torch for her ex.
The problem with this whole setup from a comedic standpoint is that it’s difficult to separate the twits from the jerks, leaving pretty much no one to root for. This becomes obvious in “Everything’s” premiere, when Leo breaks up with his prissy girlfriend, and mom takes that as her cue to move into an apartment across the street from her son. He would prefer that she set down roots somewhere a tad further away in, say, Siberia.
Marty, meanwhile, is content to reside at the center of his own peculiar universe as he prepares to marry for a third time, while Jake does a lot of pointless emoting. On the whole, opening seg from exec producer-scribe Mitchell Hurwitz is all over the map, failing to build its case for familial angst with much conviction or to incorporate co-star Maureen Cassidy (playing Leo’s writing partner Trina) very effectively.
Yet even in the so-so pilot helmer John Fortenberry showcase its potential with some quirky, stylish trappings. And this promise builds in a second episode that is far crisper, more focused and far more irreverent than the first. Tambor and Clayburgh suddenly start to click, and both Rahm and Schaeffer display a canny chemistry.
The follow-up episode features some legitimately adroit touches, such as the seamless insertion of mock home-movie footage and one amusing — if ultimately slightly overused — gambit in which the word “LIE” is flashed in huge block letters to illustrate one character’s dishonesty. There are likewise a couple of shrewd running gags launched here, leaving one with the feeling that this show might just deserve to live for a while after all.
Of course, “Everything’s” is so broadly cynical that the invariable huggy-kissy family lessons imparted at the end ring jarringly false.
Something will need to be done to remedy that. But at least this show expends some real energy trying to be unique. That alone elevates it a rung above most of its primetime competish. Tech credits, particularly in flashback sequences, are tops.