Fox has committed perhaps the most baffling bummer of the fall with “The Cool Kids,” a series whose presence on the schedule may be evidence of their desire to stay in business with executive producer Charlie Day (FX’s “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”) or of their perennial desire to “shock” through the dullest sort of crassness.
Whatever the case, “The Cool Kids,” an ensemble comedy set at a retirement community, is of startlingly poor quality, and it’s a show whose stars deserve better. The series centers around a trio made up of Leslie Jordan, Martin Mull, and David Alan Grier, who, after having come down from being a quartet upon the death of a friend, have their close friendship, and the empty seat at their cafeteria table, invaded by Vicki Lawrence.
The show’s tone brings to mind the late, and little-lamented, “Dads,” another Fox sitcom (also starring Mull) that was more fixated on finding ways to rattle its audience than on finding classically built jokes. Jokes come in at everyone’s expense: Grier’s character is mocked for being black, Jordan’s for being gay. In one of the many odd turns taken by the pilot, Jordan’s character is tasked with seducing Lawrence’s: “Only a gay man can hit on a woman these days,” Grier says. “If I so much as bump into the side of a [breast], I could end up in jail for six years!”
There should, by now, be a standard disclaimer for shows as cheap and lazy as “The Cool Kids”: It’s not impossible to make light of demographic difference. Indeed, Day’s “Sunny” has done so, to generally great effect, for 13 seasons now. But that show is tougher and less compromising, gleefully painting its protagonists as evil jerks; “The Cool Kids” wants us to like its four stars, and keeps their banter light even as it’s centered solely around digs rather than developing character. What doesn’t work here is the assumption that frankness alone is enough to carry weak material — and what an especially sorry missed opportunity, given how few recent shows have meaningfully looked at what it feels like to grow older. A “Cool Kids” that actually looked at what it feels like to be living in a retirement community, beyond the easy gags, would have been something new. But corny jokes about race and sexuality are barely enough to shock anymore; we’ve heard them all before.
Comedy, Fox. (One episode screened for review.) Fri., Sept. 28, 8:30 p.m. E.T.
Executive Producers: Nicholas Frenkel, Kevin Abbott, Charlie Day
Cast: Vicki Lawrence, Leslie Jordan, Martin Mull, David Alan Grier