Rebel Wilson's self-styled sitcom Super Fun Night premiered last night, though the episode that aired wasn't the original pilot. Instead, ABC switched in the second episode, a slightly funnier and less cruel installment of the series about loopy lawyer Kimmie (Wilson) and her dorky BFFs who decide to stop being homebodies and go out on the town. All their attempts to socialize end terribly, of course, because they are losers.
That's the weird, sad part about SFN: its insistence that its characters are and see themselves as losers — the show's term, not mine. "Dorks" is probably more accurate, but in any case, it's vaguely tragic. Kimmie in particular is presented as a vessel of humiliation. She gets her clothing accidentally ripped off twice in the first two episodes, revealing outrageous Spanx; she's socially awkward and constantly saying the wrong thing; her bitchy/sexy co-worker knows just what to say to hurt Kimmie's feelings. Kimmie's flanked by her shy, risk-averse Asian friend Helen-Alice (Liza Lapira, who has been on every show and deserves better), and her slightly butch jock friend Marika (Lauren Ash), neither of whom is discovering any new territory in the world of sitcom stock characters.
Self-deprecating jokes and generalized self-loathing are standard in contemporary humor, but Super Fun Night doesn't know quite where that loathing is focused: Are we also supposed to look down on Kimmie and her friends? Are they supposed to look down on themselves? Or are we supposed to hate the "normals" of their universe who look down on these misfits? Presumably the third — that's how most of these Ugly Betty–esque setups work — but that requires empathy for the outcasts. And in the two episodes I've seen, SFN doesn't engender audience empathy, nor does the show seem to have much empathy for its own characters. There's no twist, no reversal of fortune, no illumination of how actually wonderful these people are if someone would just take the time to get to know them. Instead, there are fat jokes. The characters live in a society that views their existence as a pitiful punch line, and rather than subvert that mentality, Super Fun Night seems to share that perspective.
SFN isn't an egregious failure, and it's completely possible that the show will get its head screwed on straight and start improving. There's a moment in last night's episode that gives me hope: Kimmie says she's been told she has the singing voice of a "one-legged angel: shaky, but magical." It's a randomly placed one-liner in an otherwise very strained scene, but it's clever and funny and more important, it's clever and funny within the universe of the show. It's not just a joke for the audience's benefit, like when Kimmie's skirt gets ripped off in the elevator, and we at home laugh at this humiliation but the characters in the scene are all horrified. I want to laugh with the Super Fun crew, not at them. If only the show wanted that, too.