“The Great Indoors” has shades of NBC’s “Community” right from the start. In “Community,” lead Joel McHale was Jeff Winger, a sour and unwilling leader for a group of misfits. In “The Great Indoors,” he’s Jack Gordon, a sour and unwilling mascot for a group of millennials. Like Jeff, Jack is arrogant, sarcastic, and convinced that his deadpan delivery works well with women; like Jeff, Jack probably has a good heart underneath all those pectoral muscles. And as in “Community,” Jack begins “The Great Indoors” on the cusp of being dragged into an unwilling life lesson about the inevitability of change.
The difference is that “The Great Indoors” doesn’t seem to understand that McHale’s character is a jerk. In the first few minutes of the pilot, Jack (Joel McHale) turns to his co-workers and observes, sarcastically, that they are “so diverse.” The three younger employees are slightly bemused, unsure how to respond to a statement of fact, as the audience laughs on cue. In the same segment, Jack also tells one of the employees that he has a “made-up job title” and refers to the web team as the “digital daycare division.”
The premise of the sitcom is that Jack, the editor of an outdoor adventure magazine, returns from a long trip in the field to discover that print operations are being shut down. He’s being pulled back into the office to create web content, a transition that is all too familiar to anyone plugged into the publishing industry in the last decade. While he was climbing mountains and camping in the woods, the world has changed. In order to navigate his new reality, Jack is joined by his three young co-workers (Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Christine Ko, and Shaun Brown) and his rich, older mentor, Roland (Stephen Fry, impeccable as always). With two different generational gaps on display, “The Great Indoors” should have a built-in sense of perspective on Jack’s selfish panic.
It doesn’t. The writers seem too enamored of the opportunity to rely on the laziest possible jokes about millennials in particular. The sitcom could have a little bit of melancholic sweetness to it, but “The Great Indoors” instead takes it upon itself to issue value judgments on an entire generation of people, and the result is perplexing and off-putting. It makes for a rather uncomfortable half-hour, where the audience is asked to identify with an undermining, insulting protagonist.
In the second episode released to critics, Jack and the millennials take on dating apps, and the sitcom settles into the familiar paces of a workplace sitcom. When “The Great Indoors” can distance itself from the massive Generation X chip on its shoulder, it becomes warmer and funnier — positioning Jack as the self-absorbed lout he is, while also allowing his snark to propel the other characters to action. But as long as the show so openly loathes its young people, it’ll be disappointing, unfunny, and eminently skippable.