- Creator Victor Fresco has a history of quirky, funny work.
- Thomas Lennon gives a hilariously weird performance as Sean’s boss.
- Generally talented supporting cast.
- Star Sean Hayes overacts and tries way too hard.
- Storylines are recycled sitcom evergreens, barely updated.
- Overall tone is shrill and overbearing.
- Stars Sean Hayes, Samantha Isler, Linda Lavin, Megan Hilty, Thomas Lennon, Echo Kellum
- Created by Victor Fresco
- Airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. EST starting October 3, 2013, on NBC
And yet what all these talented people have come up with is a completely bland sitcom whose only real unique quality is that its lead character is gay. Hayes plays Sean, a gay man who was married to a woman in his youth and is now a single parent to his teenage daughter Ellie (Samantha Isler), after his ex-wife has moved away. Sean struggles to connect with the daughter he’s only ever parented part-time, while also dealing with the pressures of his generic office job and the unsolicited advice of his overbearing mother (Lavin).
Hayes may have broken ground for the portrayal of gays on TV in the ’90s with Will & Grace, but the result of that progress is that gay characters can now be thrown into the exact same stock sitcom plotlines as straight ones. In the three episodes available for review, Sean goes to great lengths to get home on time to have a sit-down dinner with Ellie, stresses out over helping her buy her first bra, and gets overprotective when she goes out on her own to a party. The same concerns could have been used in any single-parent sitcom (gay or straight, male or female) in the past three decades.
That doesn’t mean those situations couldn’t be funny, but for the most part, Sean Saves the World plays them out in the most obvious way. Fresco’s Better Off Ted and Andy Richter Controls the Universe are a couple of the funniest and most casually subversive workplace sitcoms of the last decade, but there’s virtually none of that creativity evident in Sean Saves the World. The only bright spot is Lennon as Sean’s cruel and inscrutable boss Max, who’s prone to odd pronouncements and in one episode carries around a stuffed weasel with the prediction mechanism of a Magic 8 Ball installed in its belly. His dialogue is reminiscent of Portia de Rossi’s classic character on Better Off Ted, but instead of providing extra laughs, it mostly just fits awkwardly into the otherwise completely conventional show.
Hilty and Kellum have a few charming moments each, but Lavin is mostly stuck with the hoary sitcom stereotype of the smothering mother. Hayes is actually the cast’s weakest link, playing every moment, from the slapstick to the sappy, big and broad, trampling over whatever subtlety might exist somewhere in the writing. That worked well for him as a supporting character a decade ago, but it quickly gets tiresome in a show where he’s supposed to be the grounded focus. Hayes was once a staple of NBC’s classic Must See TV lineup, and Sean Saves the World feels like one of the fill-in shows that would have been canceled from that lineup after half a season.