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Free Agents aired from September until October 2011 on NBC.
Based on the witty, cult U.K. series of the same name, "Free Agents" is a crooked, romantic comedy from creator John Enbom ("Party Down") and Emmy Award-winning director Todd Holland ("Malcolm in the Middle") that explores the trials and tribulations of finding love and companionship - the second time around.
Hank Azaria ("The Simpsons," "Huff") stars as newly divorced Alex, who is missing his kids and trying to keep himself together. Alex's co-worker Helen (Kathryn Hahn, "Hung") thinks she has it together, but she drinks too much in order to cope with her fiance's untimely death. It's no surprise then when these two overworked public relations executives share an ill-fated night of passion and are forced to cope with the awkward aftermath.
Thus begins the journey of two lost and emotionally damaged souls in search of happiness. Joining the cause is an array of co-workers who are both helpful and meddling at the same time. Stephen (Anthony Head, "Merlin," "Buffy the Vampire Slayer") is the office boss who is concerned about Alex's emotional stability, yet needs him to focus on his work; Dan (Mo Mandel, "Love Bites," "Modern Family") is a bachelor in search of a wingman; and Gregg (Al Madrigal, "Wizards of Waverly Place," "The Daily Show") is the nerdy, lone husband of the group. Despite their valiant and well-intentioned efforts, they are failing in their attempts to help Alex get back into the dating scene. In addition, Emma (Natasha Leggero, "Ugly Americans") is Alex's spitfire assistant, who is always ready with a quick comeback, and Joe Lo Truglio ("Backwash," "Mad Love") is the building security guard who is always ready to share a little advice. Together, this motley, and often dysfunctional, group takes on a new level of damage control.
"Free Agents" is a production of Universal Media Studios in association with Dark Toy and Big Talk Productions. Enbom is executive producer/creator along with executive producer/director Holland. Ira Ungerleider and Karey Burke ("Miss Guided") executive produce, along with Big Talk Productions' Kenton Allen ("Free Agents," BBC Network) and Nira Park, as well as Chris Niel.
A Review from Variety
Posted: Fri., Sep. 9, 2011, 7:01pm PT
(Series -- NBC, Wed. Sept. 14, 10:30 p.m.)
By Brian Lowry
Filmed in Los Angeles by Dark Toy and Big Talk Prods. in association with Universal Media Studios. Executive producers, John Enbom, Todd Holland, Ira Ungerleider, Karey Burke, Kenton Allen, Nira Park, Chris Niel; co-executive producers, Alexa Jung, Mathew Justice; producer, Hank Azaria; line producer, Jimmy Simons; director, Holland; writer, Enbom;
Alex - Hank Azaria
Helen - Kathryn Hahn
Stephen - Anthony Head
Dan - Mo Mandel
Gregg - Al Madrigal
Emma - Natasha Leggero
The backward relationship -- sex first; commitment later -- certainly has broad underpinnings, from the hit romantic comedy "Knocked Up" to (less profitably) "Fools Rush In." The formula goes almost instantly awry, however, in "Free Agents," a single-camera laffer that begins with its protagonists in bed together and proceeds, unpleasantly and unsteadily, from there. Viewers will have to like leads Hank Azaria and Kathryn Hahn an awful lot to prevent this British adaptation -- which NBC would doubtless love to blossom into another "The Office" -- from more closely resembling "Coupling" or "The IT Crowd" and quickly being placed on waivers.
Thematically speaking, the underlying concept lends itself more to the British approach to series -- where a season usually means only six episodes -- than the kind of protracted mating dance the American knockoff, in success, would augur.
Azaria's Alex is newly divorced, and prone to crying a lot about it, even after sex. Hahn's Helen is an emotional mess too, owing to the death of her fiance. The two wake up in bed, with no idea how to behave once back at the corporate public-relations firm where they work.
Like most programs set in what are supposed to be high-powered PR outfits, this one appears to be overseen by somebody who has never actually set foot inside one. How else to explain this particular company, where staff meetings devolve into extended bantering about Alex's sex life, all egged on by the bizarre and imperious boss (is there any other kind in sitcoms?) played by "Buffy the Vampire Slayer's" Anthony Head, reprising his role from the U.K. version.
The underlying notion of a tentative romance between two damaged people could be promising if handled properly -- though you'd probably need cable parameters, and perhaps Jeremy Irons, to fully do it justice. As constructed by writer John Enbom ("Party Down") and director Todd Holland, "Free Agents" leaves its leads adrift with scarcely a genuine moment to be found, and other than Head, not a single supporting character worth mentioning.
In a way, NBC's scheduling of the show offers an unintended metaphor for its content: Inaugurating a new hour of comedy paired with another newcomer, "Up All Night," it's being launched behind the "America's Got Talent" finale, then set adrift after that one-night fling with no clear formula regarding what to do next.
Like the central couple's off-camera tryst, in other words, those first numbers might be as close to a fleeting morning-after glow as "Free Agents" ever gets.
camera, Giovanni Lampassi; production designer, Gae Buckley; editors, Viet Nguyen, Daniel Gabbe; casting, Brett Greenstein, Collin Daniel. 30 MIN.
A Review from USA TODAY
'Free Agents' recruits talented cast but still loses
By Robert Bianco, USA TODAY
Do two damaged singles make a relationship right? Alex (Hank Azaria), who's newly divorced, and Helen (Kathryn Hahn), whose fianc eacute/> died, are about to find out.
It's always disappointing, and often inexplicable, but it also seems to be a seasonal inevitability. Talented people will gather, hard work will be done (and even the worst shows almost always involve hard work), expectations will rise — and when the show finally arrives, it will all come crashing down in an unwatchable heap
Leaving you with Free Agents, one of those dispiriting series where you'd rather think about what the actors and writers have done and forget what they're doing now.
Start with the star of this Americanized version of a British sitcom, Hank Azaria, whose voice you know from The Simpsons and face you may know from Friends or his Emmy-winning role in Huff. He's teamed with Kathryn Hahn, a very funny actress in her first big, romantic-lead TV role, and Buffy's Anthony Head, another excellent actor repeating the role he played in the British original. Running the show are John Enborn of cult hit Party Down and Todd Holland, Emmy-winning director of Malcolm in the Middle.
Those are the kind of talents you want working in TV. You just don't want them working on a show that is as off-putting, and at times vaguely creepy, as Agents.
The trouble starts with the writing. Set in the world of crisis-management PR, Free Agents is one of those shows where characters say snappy things that make the other characters laugh, leaving you to wonder why they're laughing. Watch the seemingly endless scene in which Azaria's Alex invents a story of sexual abandon for his gathered co-workers, who erupt in enraptured delight, and you can only conclude they've all gone mad.
Sadly, as good as he's usually been elsewhere, the troubles extend to Azaria. Like Hahn's Helen, Alex is supposed to be a bit damaged. His marriage just ended, and he misses his kids. Helen's fiancé died a year ago, and she's been unable to move on. Which is why they end up in bed together, and why that turns out to be a mistake — unless it isn't.
Yet where Hahn manages to mine a little humor out of Helen, Azaria's Alex is dull, verging dangerously on pathetic. It's one thing to play wounded, another to play so wounded the audience begins to lose interest in your recovery. Besieged on all sides, Alex is a whiny mess whose only spark of life comes when he's insulting the clothing choices of Armenian gangsters — and that's not often enough.
There's not a character you're likely to believe, which is a problem, or one you want to see again, which for a series is a bigger problem. All involved have done better before and deserve a chance to do better again, and most seem set to get that chance sooner rather than later.
Maybe that's why the show is called Free Agents.
A Review from Newsday
'Free Agents' isn't worth the price
Published: September 12, 2011 7:04 PM
By VERNE GAY
THE SHOW "Free Agents"
WHEN | WHERE Previews Wednesday night at 10:30 on NBC/4. Moves into its regular time slot, Wednesdays at 8:30 p.m. next week.
REASON TO WATCH Hank Azaria. On second thought . . .
WHAT IT'S ABOUT There's a public relations agency in a big city where two lost souls are employed. Alex (Hank Azaria) is newly divorced and bursts into hot tears when he thinks of a family party he misses. Helen (Kathryn Hahn, probably best know to TV viewers as Lily Lebowski, the grief counselor on "Crossing Jordan") is still grieving for her husband who died a year earlier. She copes by drinking a significant amount of wine and cherishing his photos -- dozens of them -- that are strewn about her office and apartment. Both fall into each other arms, reluctantly, while tormented by office mates and their boss, Stephen (Anthony Head), who could care less about their fractured psyches.
MY SAY Azaria has had so many good roles ("Huff," a multitude of "Simpsons" voices) that it comes as a bit of a shock to actually discover him in a mediocre one. (To be fair, he has appeared in several TV turkeys, although the last, "Imagine That," came and went nearly a decade ago.) In "Free Agents," he's effectively reduced to spouting vacant, lifeless lines, while his valiant, attractive co-star punches out even more innocuous ones.
What's missing here, besides laughs? Chemistry. Azaria is a gifted actor whose repertory nevertheless doesn't usually include "romantic lead." Also absent is soul. To feel these lives of quiet desperation -- and of course then locate some source of amusement in them -- there has to be at minimum a glimmer of recognition, or a sense that on some level their misery is real. But amid the standard sitcom cutout figures, the only things that feel real here are the potted plants.
BOTTOM LINE A joyless grind.
A Review from The New York Daily News
'Free Agents' review: Hank Azaria and Kathryn Hahn play would-be lovers in semi-realistic office
DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITER
Wednesday, September 14, 2011
Alex is recently divorced and every time he thinks about his kids, which is all the time, he cries.
Helen's fianc was killed and every night she goes home to their apartment to stare at his pictures, drink too much and play ABBA's "Hernando" over and over.
Clearly, Alex and Helen were made for each other.
And if Alex (Hank Azaria) and Helen (Kathryn Hahn) were somehow the only characters we encountered, we would all fall in love with "Free Agents," which debuts Wednesday night at 10:30 on NBC and moves to its regular 8:30 slot next week.
For better or worse, however, this British sitcom import includes other people and other situations, which turn out to be a mixed bag.
Alex and Helen work at the same public relations agency and seem to have been friends for some time.
So they get to drinking one night and end up in bed and that pops the lids off their supersize jars of neuroses.
In fact, it tosses a few more neuroses in, because neither of them is quite sure what this new thing is.
What's troubling for them, as often happens with sitcoms, is good for viewers, because it creates a solid, intriguing setup.
Also, Azaria and Hahn make a good sitcom couple. They're smart and attractive, but not movie stars. They could work in any office.
Most real-life offices, however, would not be populated by this close-knit group of oddballs, who have been working overtime to get Alex and Helen dating again.
And who would not know they are now dating, well, maybe sort of, each other.
Lacking that critical piece of information, the whole office starts a morning planning session. They grill Alex, at length, about the kind of sex he had on his date last night.
Some of it is amusing. All of it feels like a sitcom sketch.
This is an issue because it makes Alex's and Helen's world seem rooted less in a painful human reality and more in an artificial situation manipulated to set up laugh lines.
People in real-life offices talk about co-workers' love lives all the time. They just don't do it at officewide meetings on client strategy.
The Brit original, for what it's worth, has often gone for darker material, rather than this broad humor.
On the positive side, several other cast members also stand out, including Mo Mandel as Alex's pal, Dan and Al Madrigal as the office nerd Gregg. Natasha Leggero will seem familiar as Emma, the sharp-tongued executive aide, but that role never wears thin. She's also one of Helen's good friends.
"Free Agents" has a strong premise, solid characters, good chemistry and some great one-liners. Like Alex and Helen, it needs to trust its heart.
A Review from The Boston Globe
September 14, 2011|By Sarah Rodman, Globe Staff
FREE AGENTS Starring: Hank Azaria, Kathryn Hahn, Anthony Head
On: NBC, Channel 7
Time: Preview tonight at 10:30, then Wednesdays at 8:30 p.m.
In the quirky new NBC comedy “Free Agents,’’ previewing tonight at 10:30 before moving into its normal 8:30 p.m. timeslot next week, corporate PR professionals Helen (Kathryn Hahn) and Alex (Hank Azaria) are co-workers who must deal with the fallout of their very awkward one-night stand.
He’s a recently divorced dad, who is essentially a walking wound prone to maudlin pronouncements and ill-timed sobbing - including directly after that one-night stand. She’s grieving the death of her fiance and given to over-imbibing and listening to ABBA on repeat. In short, they’re both a mess and they only make things messier by sleeping together.
Luckily, both are covering their respective heartaches with humor that is by turns light and mordant. That triangulation of fumbling romance, wry laughs, and real-life melancholy is what makes “Free Agents’’ - an adaptation of a British series - stand out from this year’s comedy pack.
And even more fortunately, Alex and Helen are played with tart zing by Azaria and Hahn. Azaria’s been wowing on the big and small screens for more than 20 years in “The Birdcage,’’ “Huff,’’ the underrated “Herman’s Head,’’ and a multitude of voices on “The Simpsons.’’ Hahn has sparkled in smaller and supporting parts in everything from “Crossing Jordan’’ to “Hung’’ to “Revolutionary Road.’’ It’s a treat to see them front and center with material that plays to their strengths.
While the show and main characters are grounded in grown-up realism - death, divorce, the demands of work - they are surrounded by the zany edge of the supporting characters.
There is their ribald, insanely rich, and completely oblivious boss at the PR firm played with a zest-for-life gleam by Anthony Head, of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer’’ fame, reprising his role from the original series. (When confronted with a crisis he asks his team if the strategy should be “complete denial or blame someone else?’’) Throw in a dude-and-dork duo of hound-dog office mates, an all-snark-all-the-time assistant, and an ancient sword-obsessed security guard, and you’ve got an intriguing TV comedy that could either deepen over time or get annoying really fast. I’m hoping for the former.
Ostensibly, the show is free of “will-they-or-won’t-they?’’ tension since Helen and Alex already have. But it does set up the question of whether, as they help each other transition back into the world as friends - apparently with benefits - whether they could become more.
The last time a show brought this mix of head, heart, and corporate satire to the table, it was the late, lamented “Better Off Ted’’ which was mistreated by ABC before being canceled. It’s unclear if the promising “Free Agents’’ can reach the comedic heights of “Ted’’ but hopefully, NBC will give these PR folks a little more time to put their spin on things.
To watch the opening credits of Free Agents go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6cu6gnCX6ss
ï¿½ Date: Mon December 5, 2011 ï¿½ Filesize: 45.4kb ï¿½ Dimensions: 600 x 449 ï¿½
Keywords: Hank Azaria & Kathryn Hahn