[06/06/10 - 05:22 PM]
The Futon's First Look: "Freshmen" (ABC)
By Brian Ford Sullivan (TFC)

Please note: As a courtesy, please do not reproduce these comments to newsgroups, forums or other online places. Links only please.

Welcome once again to our annual "first look" at the broadcast networks' offerings for the 2010-2011 season. Each day we'll walk you through one of the new series set to premiere next season (or one that didn't make the cut) and go over our initial impressions after viewing the pilot. Keep in mind that a lot can change from what's being screened right now - recasting, reshooting, etc. - but we still want to give you a heads up on what you should (and shouldn't) keep on your radar in the coming months. So enough of our rambling, on with the show!

[IMPORTANT NOTE: The following is based on the original sales presentation which was screened to us privately or supplied by a third party NOT an informational, not-for-review screener provided by the network in question.]

(written by Greg Malins; directed by Pamela Fryman; TRT: 23:10)

The network's description: "Ever wondered what goes on behind closed doors in D.C.? Get a closer look at the private lives of public people in this uncensored new comedy. When three young, newly-elected members of Congress decide to share a house together, we'll see both their public maneuvering and their behind-the-scenes personal relationships. Meet Cameron, Vince and Jane, three freshman Representatives who decide to pool both their financial and political resources when they share a house in D.C. Cameron is optimistic and determined, Vince is opportunistic and charming, and Jane, is beautiful and brilliant, but a little romantically clueless. As these newbies try to learn their way around the hill, they inevitably run into professional challenges, personal entanglements and public humiliations.

After all, if they screw up, the snarky blog 'Fools on the Hill' is there to document it for the whole wide web. It's their first year in D.C., so these three young Representatives will definitely make a few mistakes, but hopefully they will learn a thing or two along the way. Luckily, they've formed their own little ways and means committee for negotiating life on the hill. Executive producer Arianna Huffington lends her experience and pointed political-insider wit to this comedy that is part West Wing, part Grey's Anatomy. Experience both the private and public lives of politicians when creator Greg Malins (How I Met Your Mother) pulls back the curtain on America's elected officials."

What did they leave out? Bill Maher turns up in a brief cameo as he offers up a "new rule" at Jane's expense, as she fell asleep during a press conference.

The plot in a nutshell: Jane Keathly (Sarah Chalke) is late for her first day as a Congresswoman from the state of Washington. It's not exactly her first stumbling block as a politician though: the former corporate COO cashed in her stock options to run for Congress, only to have her husband come out of the closet after she won. Minnesota freshman Cameron Graham (Tommy Dewey) conversely couldn't get there early enough as he's bursting at the seams to take on his new role. It's his zealousness that both annoys and endears him to Vince Rapp (Ben Lawson), an Arizona Republician who shows him the ropes and teach him his "rules" on the Hill.

First and foremost, it turns out most Congressmen share apartments to save money. Vince and Cameron subsequently agree to be roommates while Jane, who's been sleeping in her office because she can't find an affordable apartment, winds up the third in their house. Before long, each of our heroes establishes their respective modus operandi: Vince is unabashedly in it for the perks, whether it be the golden limousines that take him to parties or the buffets that allow him to stock up on food for the week; Cameron is the sunny idealist who actually reads the bills put up for vote; and Jane has a mess of a personal life as she sleeps with her attentive assistant, Adam (Taran Killam), harbors a smoldering crush on President Obama and struggles with her "gay husband lady" moniker.

Vince however turns out to be not the best mentor for Cameron as he's awakened by his ever-present assistant (Suzy Nakamura) after a night out partying to be told he's late for a vote and he missed out on a chance to impress the co-chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee. Cameron nevertheless can't stay mad at Vince as he saves his new friend from his own embarrassing scandal while Jane is thrilled Adam isn't going to tell anyone about what happened (Adam: "It is my responsibility to take care of your needs and that's what I did last night." Jane: "Yes, you did that... twice." Adam: "I have it recorded as three but we'll agree to disagree.") Ultimately, Jane, Vince and Cameron realize they're all going to need each other in order to survive Congress - if only to keep their various secrets.

What works: "Freshmen" plays a lot like a modern version of "Spin City" - the politics aren't there for shameless partisan bickering but rather as a backdrop for the ridiculousness that is politics. Sure there's some well-intentioned banter (Cameron: "In your office are they making you composting your food scraps? Or is that something only our side has to do?" Vince: "I have to go to church every Sunday no matter how hung over I am so we're even."), but it's mostly just madcapery for the sake of madcapery: Vince agrees to offer up a bill banning rainbows in schools (the gays have taken over their meaning!) for a $15,000 donation to his re-election campaign; Jane feebly tries to make herself part of a D.C. power couple; and Cameron, by doing what Congressmen are actually supposed to do, sticks out like a sore thumb.

What doesn't: It's not exactly roll-in-the-aisles-holding-onto-your-gut humor, but there's definitely a solid sense this has legs beyond the pilot. Chalke remains an improbably unrecognized comedic talent as her goofy, self-deprecating acting style makes her beauty charmingly approachable. Dewey and Lawson, underutilized in their previous TV efforts, shine as the figurative "Mutt and Jeff" of D.C. (my favorite: penny-pincher Vince amusingly charges Cameron 25 cents for using his fabric softener, a fact he will constantly remind him of until he pays). And while I'm not too crazy about the HuffingtonPost.com FoolsOnTheHill.com headline bumpers between scenes, they do remind us the tabloid nature of the political landscape nowadays. All in all, it was nice to see a political show that not only has teeth beyond the talking points but...

The bottom line: ...also remembers to be funny.

  [june 2010]  


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