‘Reboot’ explores the ins and outs of TV comedies

The logo for "Reboot" (2022-) is pictured. via Wikimedia Commons
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Remakes of classic movies and TV shows are everywhere these days. “Reboot” (2022–), a meta new comedy series that just wrapped up its first season on Hulu, makes fun of this trend by taking viewers behind the scenes of the revival of a fictional sitcom. On “Reboot,” the original cast of the popular comedy series “Step Right Up” is reunited after nearly two decades when up-and-coming writer Hannah Korman (Rachel Bloom) pitches a reboot to Hulu, hoping to take the show in a new direction.

The series is led by actors Reed Sterling (Keegan-Michael Key), Clay Barber (Johnny Knoxville), Bree Marie Jensen (Judy Greer) and Zack Jackson (Calum Worthy), who make up the cast of the fake sitcom. Behind the scenes, we meet Hannah, the showrunner of the reboot alongside the show’s original creator, Gordon Gelman (Paul Reiser). At the end of the pilot episode, we learn that Gordon is (spoiler alert!) Hannah’s estranged father, which adds a layer of complexity to their relationship.

From “Modern Family” (2009–2020) co-creator Steven Levitan, “Reboot” is an ambitious series that explores how comedy and television have changed over the last 20 years. The first episode begins with Hannah pitching a reboot of “Step Right Up” to a group of Hulu executives, promising to do away with the clichéd jokes and turn the show into something different. However, it quickly becomes clear that adapting a run-of-the mill, early-2000s sitcom for a present-day audience is no easy task. The clash between Gordon’s old-school humor and Hannah’s modern approach plays out in the writers’ room, where Hannah’s young writers and her father’s older ones struggle to find common ground in their comedy.

Greer and Key make a compelling pairing as Bree and Reed, respectively, who play a married couple on the show-within-a-show and have a romantic past of their own. Reed, who studied at Yale and pursued a career in theater after leaving the original series, desperately wants to be taken seriously, while Bree, who’s going through a messy divorce, is just happy to be back in the spotlight again. Key’s comedy chops are on display throughout the series, and Greer infuses Bree with an infectious energy that makes viewers root for her — even when she’s sabotaging her co-stars or interfering with Reed’s new relationship. 

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Rounding out the sitcom’s cast are Worthy as Zack, a former child actor who still hasn’t quite grown up, and Knoxville as Clay, a recovering alcoholic. The “Jackass” (2000–2007) star may seem an unusual choice for the role, but he pulls it off. In one of the series’ funniest episodes, Clay has an affair with Zack’s mom, who frequently visits her son on set. Several new faces join the reboot, including Elaine Kim (Krista Marie Yu), a young Hulu executive, and Timberly Fox (Alyah Chanelle Scott), a reality TV star turned actress who deserved more screen time than she got in season 1. 

The moral of “Reboot” is that comedy has evolved over the last few decades, but the show’s writing suggests that maybe not that much has changed. In her pitch meeting, Hannah promises an edgier, more adult version of “Step Right Up.” Besides the actual filming of the show, we learn about the series through its writers’ room, where generational divides put a strain on the creative process. The young and old writers eventually become a capable team, but they still fall back on classic sitcom tropes and their jokes don’t push the boundaries of comedy in the way they should. It’s frustrating when “Reboot” starts to look like the same kind of show it’s trying to make fun of.

Although most of the series takes place on a television set, some of its best moments take place elsewhere. The romantic tension between Bree and Reed, the family drama between Gordon and Hannah and the budding relationship between Zack and Elaine are just a few of the through-lines that keep the show intact. The cast is full of talented comedic actors who have strong chemistry with one another, and at times, it seems like their abilities outshine the show’s material — especially Greer, Key and Bloom, who always know how to make a decent punchline sound hilarious.

Still, there are plenty of great jokes, and the series shows more willingness to push the envelope later on in the season as the characters’ personal struggles come to the forefront. Finally, the season ends with an interesting twist as a change in leadership at Hulu threatens the future of the show. If “Reboot” returns for season 2, let’s hope the writers take advantage of a great premise and a talented cast by fully committing to the show and pushing the boundaries of comedy a little bit more.

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Summary

“Reboot” doesn’t always chart new territory for comedy in the ways it promises to, but its exceptional cast will keep viewers coming back every week.

3 stars
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