A delightful surprise, Great News immediately becomes one of network television’s best sitcoms with its NBC premiere on Tuesday night. Conceived by Tracey Wigfield (30 Rock, The Mindy Project), it takes a familiar TV setting — behind the scenes in the making of a TV news show — and populates it with fresh characters, none of whom is fresher-in-every-sense than star Andrea Martin.
Martin is, of course, the great comic performer who helped make SCTV legendary and has recently brightened the Billy Eichner-Julie Klausner show Difficult People. In Great News, she plays Carol, the mother of Katie Wendelson (Briga Heelan), a producer for a cut-rate afternoon news show called The Breakdown. The first episode sets up the gimmick: Senior-citizen Carol, loud and brassy, joins the show as an intern; mortification of her daughter immediately follows.
The sitcom — whose executive producers include Tina Fey and Robert Carlock — plays on the notion that, as an aging boomer, Carol is perplexed by the fast pace and high tech of a TV studio, to say nothing of current pop culture (she refers to Drake as “the Canada wheelchair guy”). But she deploys her natural inclination to be boisterously friendly, snoopy, and honest to make herself invaluable to The Breakdown’s staff. Martin plays this with all the bravura gusto she can muster, and believe me, she can muster a heckuva lot.
In daughter Katie — intelligent, talented, but a little tentative about promoting herself professionally — Wigfield has created a vivid character. You can easily imagine why, as the daughter of Carol, Katie has turned out the way she has. Her initial panic and subsequent resignation about her mom as an officemate makes for a unique mother-daughter TV relationship, and Heelan — excellent in Netflix’s Love and a bright light in unworthy vehicles such as Undateable and Ground Floor — has found a fine showcase here for her subtle comedic style, characterized by deft double-takes, rapid-fire dialogue-delivery, and a plucky commitment to physical gags. (The episode in which Katie learns to ride a bike is aces.)
Wigfield — who also appears on the show as a possibly demented meteorologist — has cherry-picked bits of 30 Rock and The Mary Tyler Moore Show and added her own original spin. The newsroom is complete with an egotistical yet insecure anchor (John Michael Higgins, the always-funny veteran of Christopher Guest comedies), his ditzy co-anchor (Nicole Richie, surprisingly not bad), and the news show’s jittery producer (Adam Campbell). It’s possible to nitpick some flaws — Richie’s Portia is just a variation on 30 Rock’s Jenna Maroney; producer Greg is a flighty coward one moment, a stern task-master the next — but Great News steamrolls over your reservations. The show is jammed with jokes; if you don’t laugh at one, there for six more waiting to tickle you in the next 30 seconds. Just the urgent chyrons running beneath The Breakdown’s broadcasts (“Is There A Silent Killer In Your Family’s Handguns?”) are funnier than most sitcoms.
Great News airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on NBC.
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