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Free Ride aired from March until April 2006 on Fox.

Following his graduation from the University of California at Santa Barbara, Nate ( Josh Dean) returned to his hometown of Johnson City, Missouri, with no idea about what he wanted to do with his life. His return was a surprise to his parents , Bob and Margo( Alan Havey, Loretta Fox), who had converted his bedroom into a gym and were having marital problems. Reluctantly, they let him move into the garage while he tried to find himself. The only good thing he found after his return home was that Amber ( Erin Cahill), a former high school classmate on whom he had a crush, was working as a bank teller in town. Unfortunately she had recently become engaged to Steve ( Dan Wells), a pompous but successful real estate salesman. Nate had hopes of winning her heart, but it didn't seem likely. Soon after his return to Johnson City Nate met and befriended Dove ( Dave Sheridan), a somehat spaced-out character who drove a monster truck and worked as assistant manager of the auto section at the local Kash Kutters. Dove thought he was a party animal but he seemed to screw up most everything he tried. Also seen were Dove's friend Calvin( Jordan Black) and Nate's married friend Dillon ( Kirby Heyborne).

A Review from Variety

Free Ride
(Series -- Fox, Wed. March 1, 9:30 P.M.)

Filmed in Los Angeles by Fox 21. Executive producer, Rob Roy Thomas; co-executive producers, Michael Binkow, Joe Revello; supervising producers, Chris Cox, Matt Sloan; producer, Allison Kingsley; co-producers, Aaron Hilliard, Luke Del Tredici; director, Thomas; story by Thomas.

Nate Stahlings - Josh Dean
Amber Danwood - Erin Cahill
Dove - Dave Sheridan
Margo Stahlings - Loretta Fox
Bob Stahlings - Allan Havey

Slacker comedy is harder work than it looks, which explains the trail of roadkill strewn around Fox, the WB and others in recent years. It's surprising, then, for another promising newcomer to arrive not long after FX nailed the landing on "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia," as producer-writer-director Rob Roy Thomas -- the mastermind behind Bravo's too-short-lived improv-com "Significant Others" -- delivers a kind of "The Graduate" for the '00s. Semi-improvised and natural, "Free Ride" gets the benefit of a post-"American Idol" launch before its real test begins, when it joins Fox's Sunday lineup in mid-March.
The series actually opens with the same gag that set up the WB's "Living With Fran" -- a kid coming home from college to discover his room has been transformed into a gym. Fortunately, the similarities end there.

Nate (Josh Dean) attended UC-Santa Barbara, but now he's back in Johnson City, Mo., where his parents (Loretta Fox and Allan Havey) are muddling through a hostile marriage and his old friends are otherwise occupied. In a chance encounter, he meets a girl from his high school, Amber (Erin Cahill), which would be great if she wasn't engaged to someone else.

Mostly to kill time, Nate begins hanging out with Dove (Dave Sheridan), a wild man who seems to be cryogenically frozen in the 11th grade. Pressed by his parents to move out, Nate has given up on his major, saying, "The good news is that I know what I don't want to do."

"Free Ride" proceeds at an unforced pace, with Nate deciding he needs five months (not coincidentally, the time until Amber's wedding) at home to get himself on his feet, even if that means crashing in the garage and enduring his parents' peculiar behavior.

None of this is especially new, but Dean brings a likeability to the dazed and confused protagonist, as does Cahill (a one-time Mighty Morphin Power Ranger!) as Amber, who is experiencing her own misgivings about her chosen path. It's in their scenes together, in fact, that the improv element works best, bringing out a stammering, awkward authenticity.

Thomas' "Significant Others," which just came out on DVD, used an even more heavily improvised approach to examine couples in marriage counseling, and "Free Ride" doesn't slice so closely to the bone or swing as wildly. Still, there's a breezy charm to the show, as well as a universal quality in Nate's paralysis in that nether-realm between college and adulthood.

How well that will wear in a series that's more amusing than fall-over-laughing funny is difficult to gauge; still, if the cast and writers can sustain the quirky appeal that characterizes the first two half-hours, it's not a huge leap to see those five months Nate hopes to spend at home stretching out into five TV seasons.

A Review from The New York Times

TV Review | 'Free Ride'
Fresh From College and Back at the Nest, in Reality's Grip

Published: March 1, 2006

It's hard to tell whether slackers are a short-term actuarial blip, like yuppies and compassionate conservatives, or a more permanent phenomenon. It could be that Generation X and its descendants form a permanent bourgeois underclass and yet another sign of civilization in decline.

At the moment, certainly, the number of young people who move back in with their parents after college seems to be growing. It's enough of a trend to be the premise of a new romantic comedy, "Failure to Launch," starring Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew McConaughey, and it's also the foundation of Fox's latest sitcom, "Free Ride." Downward mobility is a perfectly plausible and amusing idea, but as is always true in comedy though not in slackerdom execution is everything. Timing, however, helps, and tonight's premiere of "Free Ride" directly follows "American Idol."

The hero is Nate Stahlings (Josh Dean), freshly graduated from college in Southern California, who is driving home to his parents' house in suburban Missouri, without a job or a plan to find one. "It's cool," he assures a suspicious college classmate by cellphone while driving. "They take care of me, do the dishes, cook me food. It's like having servants."

Actually, his parents, Margo (Loretta Fox) and Bob (Allan Havey), are surprised and more than a little dismayed to see him, since they were quite happy renovating their marriage and remodeling their empty nest. They even turned his bedroom into a home gym, which is apparently a very common occurrence: the same joke was made in the pilot of "Living With Fran" on the WB.

Nate finds himself adrift in a small town where nobody except his parents seems to have expectations or aspirations. His is not grunge-era angst as portrayed in the 1994 slacker classic "Reality Bites," or the loser chic of "Clerks" in 1994 and "Mallrats" a year later. Nate is bored and a little lonely, not alienated. He craves suburban comforts.

He runs into an old high school classmate, Amber (Erin Cahill), who works as a teller in the drive-through window of a bank, and falls for her, only to discover that she is engaged to a jealous boyfriend. His closest high school friends have leapfrogged forward to frantic middle age: in a supermarket aisle, he is fobbed off by a distracted pal who is shopping with coupons and trying to contain his toddler's tantrum. By default, Nate falls in with a lowlife he barely knew in high school, Mark Dove (Dave Sheridan), a clerk at Cash Cutters, who calls him "dude" and promises to be his "personal party sherpa." Dove is frozen in the 11th grade. "You into fat chicks?" he asks Nate. "You will be in this town."

There are some funny moments in "Free Ride." When Nate is forced to get a job, he lands one at Boomerang Jack's, an Aussie-themed restaurant where the waiters are instructed to greet customers with the words, "G'day, mates," and describe the "mar-soup-ial of the day." Back home, Margo tries to persuade Bob to rekindle their sex life by fantasizing about celebrities. "Would it kill you to be Johnny Knoxville?" she asks.

Mr. Dean is appealing as Nate and Mr. Sheridan is amusing as Dove, but the tone of the series is uneven. "Free Ride" tries for the deadpan satire of "The Office" and "Arrested Development," but in a milder, more muddled way. For one thing, the dialogue is described by the series's producers as "semi-improvised," which is a little like saying a grocery item is fresh-frozen.

By that standard, "Free Ride" is semi-funny.

Free Ride

Fox, tonight at 9:30, Eastern and Pacific times; 8:30, Central time.

Created and executive produced by Rob Roy; Michael Binkow and Joe Revello, co-executive producers. Produced by Fox 21.

WITH: Josh Dean (Nate Stahlings), Erin Cahill (Amber Danwood), Dave Sheridan (Mark Dove), Loretta Fox (Margo Stahlings) and Allan Havey (Bob Stahlings).

A Review from The Washington Post

Fox's Giddy 'Free Ride,' Shaper of Sitcoms to Come

By Tom Shales
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 1, 2006; Page C01

The bright young stars of Fox's new sitcom "Free Ride," premiering tonight after "American Idol," aren't just true to their roots -- the improv theaters and comedy clubs where they honed their craft. They have brought their roots with them. The show is part scripted and part improvised, making it at least nominally new for network prime time.

Pompous though it might sound, "Free Ride" marks another step in the evolution of the sitcom, a format believed to have died when "Seinfeld" was canceled. Ah, but then came "Seinfeld" co-producer Larry David with "Curb Your Enthusiasm," with dialogue largely improvised to flesh out stories and arcs plotted out by David. Appropriately enough, David -- in real life and on the show -- drives one of them hybrid cars. We are living, ladies and gentlemen, in hybrid times.

So it's appropriate that "Free Ride" has its fittingly tipsy-dipsy feel to it. One character even compares his and his mother's lives to a Mobius strip and says they both have met back where they started -- both alone, except for each other, and wondering what to ask out of life.

The question also shadows the show's hero, Nate Stahlings, played engagingly by Josh Dean, who might be considered a young Topher Grace. Who knew it was already time for a "young" one of those? The first one has barely registered. But that's how things are now. Maybe this is the Age of Barely Registering.

Nate is a member of what generation, then? Maybe it could be called "Generation Huh?" -- a group without much of a profile or distinguishing characteristics but united by the refusal to rebel because rebelling is uncool. In the premiere, Nate, having washed out at or dropped out of college in Santa Barbara, Calif., returns to his cramped home town of Johnson City, Mo., only to discover that it and the kids he went to high school with are much as he left it -- stranded between unpleasant alternatives.

Nate's room, however, is not as he left it. His desperately trend-chasing parents (Loretta Fox and Allan Havey), deep into the cliches of therapy, have turned their son's room into a gym in which they can work up sweats trying to stay young. Then they tell Nate, to his utter mortification, that they're going off to the bedroom to spice up their sex lives by fantasizing they're Katie Couric and Brad Pitt.

The garage will serve just dandily as a room for Nate once the family picks up an air mattress at the local Cash-Cutters, a Wal-Mart clone whose unspoken slogan is: "Always low expectations -- always."

At that gigaplex, Nate runs into a spaced-out frankfurter named Dove (Dave Sheridan), who zooms around town revving the devil out of the oversize engine on his monster truck (yes, flames painted on the front and sides). More promisingly, from Nate's point of view, he discovers his old flame Amber Danwood (Erin Cahill) working as a drive-through teller at a local bank. Amber flirts like there's no tomorrow. She also flirts like there's no fiance, but there is; the poor girl, thinking she'd better grasp at the last available straw, got herself hitched to a thuggish twit, distant cousin to virtually any of the ROTC boys in "Animal House."

The characters don't stand out against the background of Strip-Mall America because sometimes the background takes the foreground. Either way, the results are often wickedly amusing. One problem with the show, though, is that it is shot very tight, with too many close-ups, by hand-held cameras held by jumpy, jerky hands. It's a sitcom that looks like a news report from a flood site, just what you don't want to watch on your new 60-inch wall-screen television set.

But even when it's annoying, the show has a tendency to be funny. In a second episode -- to air March 12 in the show's regular time slot of Sundays at 8:30 -- Nate's Aunt Louise is so determined to deny the passage of years that she insists on dating big, goofy Dove, although the evening is cut short when Louise must return home for a pitched battle over a chair in her front yard (with her husband doing the pitching).

"Free Ride" pulls us into a society genetically engineered for outright pandemonium yet populated by enough level-headed young adults that it's repeatedly spared an inconvenience along the lines of the fall of the Roman Empire or the bloody havoc of the French Revolution. People don't want to burn down the Cash-Cutters -- or the ghastly Australian-themed restaurant where Nate must address customers with "G'day, mate" -- even though they might hate them. The trick to survival is pretend things are so bad they're good, and view each week as a jungle to carve your way through en route to the weekend.

Whether "Free Ride" becomes a big hit or a tiny detail, it seems fair to say that this fresh, freaky show will affect all the sitcoms that follow it for some time to come -- weeks, months or years. There's something new in the air, and it's laced with nitrous oxide.

Free Ride (30 minutes) airs tonight at 9:30 on Channel 5.

A Review from The Boston Globe

Home is not so sweet in Fox's 'Free Ride'

By Matthew Gilbert, Globe Staff | March 1, 2006

You can go home again after college. But while you might not pay rent to your parents, you'll probably pay a high psychic toll. Nothing comes for free on the highway of life, except, of course, traffic.

In Fox's ironically titled sitcom ''Free Ride," an Everygrad named Nate Stahlings pays with his sanity after boomeranging back to his folks' garage to ponder his future. What Nate expects to be a long period of R&R in suburban Missouri with Mom as his personal chef turns out to be a soul-, brain-, emotion-, ambition-, and pride-sucking experience. Alas, reconnecting with your inner teenager isn't always a nostalgic cruise down Main Street.

''Free Ride," which premieres tonight at 9:30 on Channel 25, isn't the worst bird in the sitcom tree. A twisted take on ''The Graduate," it's made of familiar slacker material that's slightly freshened with an improvisatory feel as the actors um-and-ah their way to their punch lines. And it's blissfully missing the canned laughs that make the likes of ''That '70s Show" so obnoxious. Still, ''Free Ride" is far from essential TV viewing, unless you've already reserved tickets for Matthew McConaughey's similarly themed movie ''Failure to Launch," which opens March 10.

When Nate (Josh Dean) arrives home, he quickly discovers that his mother and father are battling like children. Instead of receiving nurturance and guidance from these adults, he gets stuck playing a kind of parent to them. At a number of points they even share details of their sex life with him, as if he's their therapist. He writhes in discomfort, and Dean does a nice job of making that awkwardness and disappointment funny. The actor is well cast, as he effortlessly toggles between Ashton Kutcher-like boyishness and bored maturity.

Nate's dreams of regressing to his easy high school social life also burst, since his years at University of California at Santa Barbara have made him irrevocably different from those he knew as a teen. He finally starts hanging with a lovably doltish metal-head named Mark Dove (Dave Sheridan), who drives a tricked-out truck. The self-proclaimed ''Doveman" appoints himself Nate's ''personal party sherpa" and escorts him to beer parties that involve an inordinate number of high-fives.

No one is more surprised than Nate that he's out on the town with the caveman-like Dove, whom he knew vaguely in high school. But Dove may be able to help him land Amber (Erin Cahill), a local bank teller who has captured his fancy. The attraction and obstacles between Nate and Amber will clearly become one of the show's ongoing plots -- that is, if the show is ongoing. After tonight's cushy post-''American Idol" airing, ''Free Ride" will have to stand on its own merits in its regular time slot, Sundays at 8:30 p.m.

Going home again is not a new TV theme, especially since the economy has pushed so many people in their 20s back to their childhood bedrooms. Too many series to name have revolved around a return to the parental nest, from recent comedies featuring Ellen DeGeneres and Tom Cavanagh to dramas such as ''Six Feet Under," ''Judging Amy," and ''Providence." It's an all-purpose setup, bringing on culture clash, family dysfunction, and the appearance of old ghosts. Whether ''Free Ride" can make those symptoms of boomerang life distinct remains to be seen.

To watch episodes of Free Ride go to
Date: Mon May 5, 2008 � Filesize: 197.7kb � Dimensions: 361 x 499 �
Keywords: Free Ride: Josh Dean


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