Checking Out Breaking In

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Fox’s newest live action sitcom, Breaking In, debuted last night, wisely scheduled immediately after ratings behemoth American Idol. The great lead-in was enough to secure solid viewership for this show’s pilot, but future weeks will tell if the large audience sticks around. Breaking In stars Brett Harrison (the lead on recent cancelled-too-soon series Reaper and The Loop), and revolves around a team of tech experts who are tasked with breaking into their clients’ companies to demonstrate potential security risks. It’s unclear if the writers will be able to ring enough material out of this premise to justify the series, as the team pulling off these wacky B&E schemes week after week feels like it would get a little repetitive. Also, the fact that the team is working for the companies they’re breaking into, at least in the pilot, sucks the tension out of these little heists, since there don’t seem to be any consequences if they fail. Despite this, this workplace comedy has an original premise one that we haven’t seen fifty times before, which is greatly appreciated in a TV season replete with sitcoms about groups of thirtysomethings composed of different combinations of friends and couples.—

We’re first introduced to Brett Harrison’s protagonist Cameron Price as he confidently strolls through the campus of Loyola Technical College to the strains of rapper Asher Roth’s frat boy anthem “I Love College.” It’s a perversely unoriginal music choice for a short scene that’s filled with just as many college clichés as the song, with Cameron passing by Frisbee-tossers and bikini-clad sunbathing ladies on his walk. Cameron greets and bumps fists with a diverse assortment of stereotypical college characters, cuing us in that he’s a well-liked, charming schemer in the Ferris Bueller/Van Wilder mold. Cameron soon meets Oz (played by Christian Slater) who owns Contra Security and blackmails him into working for his company.

Christian Slater’s the marquee name in the cast and he’s been the focus of the show’s marketing campaign. While he receives plenty of screentime, Brett Harrison is the series’ true star, not Slater. This is the third back-to-back pilot Christian Slater’s starred in, with his previous two outings NBC’s My Own Worst Enemy and ABC’s The Forgotten failing to take off one after the other these past two TV seasons. Breaking In is Slater’s first stab at sitcom stardom and it could be the show to finally give him that steady TV paycheck he seems to have his eye on. Slater’s proven he can do well in comedies in the past, most notably in Heathers and Very Bad Things and most recently in guest spots on The Office and Curb Your Enthusiasm. Breaking In is no exception, as Slater handles his part ably. His character is a little one-note in the pilot, but I’m hoping we get to see more sides to him in future episodes. The character is well within Christian Slater’s wheelhouse, giving him the chance to show off his sleazy “Nicholson Light” charm. Slater even goes the extra mile and takes his sunglasses of for a couple of his indoor scenes.

The rest of the cast is a mixed bag. While Brett Harrison is always an engaging and enjoyable performer, he’s not given many chances to demonstrate this here. His beloved-by-his-peers hustler is a character we’ve seen so many times before in teen and college movies that there’s not much opportunity to bring anything new to the table. Trevor Moore, of the sketch group The Whitest Kids U’ Know, is a standout as a member of the team who specializes in disguises. There are traces of The Office’s Dwight Schrute in Moore’s character’s admiration of boss Oz and loathing of charming everyman Cameron, which echoes the Dwight-Jim-Michael dynamic, but the similarities end there. Moore gets a lot of mileage out of his character donning Fletch-like disguises, which allows the performer the chance to show off a variety of accents and personas. It’s the perfect sitcom role for a sketch actor, and it’s great to see Moore find a solid opportunity to transition to mainstream work.

Television pilots — comedies especially — are tough, as they’re tasked with accomplishing an awful lot in 22 minutes. An ideal comedy pilot would introduce the main characters, establish the show’s premise, and serve up consistent laughs throughout, all while telling a full and satisfying narrative story. The pilot for Breaking In manages to set up its premise and its characters well, but it tries to cram too much plot into its scant runtime and is a little laugh-light. But in the grand scheme of comedy pilots, Breaking In is a decent one and could form the basis for an enjoyable series, if given time to grow. I like to think of pilots as the awkward, oily-faced teenage phase in the life of a TV show. Many shows that started as unsatisfying, inconsistent pilots have blossomed into graceful adulthoods, and time will tell if Breaking In does the same.

Bradford Evans is satisfied he wrote this whole review without once accidentally referring to Breaking In as Breaking Bad. Can’t wait ‘til that show comes back in July.