Showtime’s adaptation of Brett Merhar’s syndicated comicstrip “Free for All” proves that artistic freedom for some boils down to sex and swearing, the two things that don’t show up in family newspapers. Teen angst drives the skein’s key character, wimpy community college student Johnny G. Jenkins (voiced by Jonathan Silverman), and his dealings with his loaded and dashing neighbor Clay (Merhar). Nothing in the debut episode is particularly funny beyond a pill-popping and boozing pet ferret, but one assumes Showtime’s aud for the pic is twentysomething males with a bit of a beer buzz.
Johnny has a private lifelong crush on his other neighbor, Paula (Juliette Lewis), and as they venture toward an oh-so-obvious moment in their relationship, “Free for All” takes advantage of its first opportunity to go for the sex and swearing. Johnny’s biggest problems are his hard-drinking father (Sam McMurray) and grandma (Mitzi McCall), who — not so surprising — is overly randy.
With a plot that involves detoxing the ferret, flying to Las Vegas for a Tom Jones concert and meeting Eminem and Grandma’s seduction of Clay that involves a blend of “Basic Instinct” and “The Graduate,” “Free for All” flashes moments of cleverness. Creator Merhar and Merriwether Williams (head writer of “SpongeBob SquarePants”) have the characters. They just need to make their lives a bit more messy.