Great News has shown promise from the beginning, thanks to the high quality of its jokes and the energy of its cast, but “The Red Door” is the first episode so far that gave me a glimpse of what the show might look like when it’s fully formed. Neither of its plots seem particularly original at the start — Katie and Greg try to avoid looking at the photos and emails released from Portia’s hacked phone, while the notoriously nosy Carol is desperate to find out what’s behind a mysterious red door in Chuck’s home — but while it easily could have dawdled on the characters’ indecision for an entire episode, the script (written by Amy Hubbs) decides to have them both cave in the first act. It sets up a pair of much stranger and more varied plots that pair better with the show’s relentlessly goofy tone, drawing out some new sides of characters that have felt a little flat.
That especially applies to Greg and Katie, who, after trying on a few different personalities each, really click as a matched set of office nerds facing the simultaneous pity and contempt of their staff. Desperate to convince their co-workers that Portia’s hacked email that claimed “they’re totally boning” isn’t true, they’re instead surprised to find that no one thinks they’re getting laid at all. (Gene: “I don’t think of you having sex with anyone, you’re always doing puzzles.” Katie: “Some say sex is the ultimate puzzle.” Gene: “Yeah, see? You’re always saying stuff like that.”)
Meanwhile, Carol gets behind the red door almost immediately, where she finds a creepy life-size wax doll of Chuck. Concerned about his reaction, she instead gets the full story (“Are you implying that I wanted you to open it? So I could tell my story and air my secret shame? … The year was 1996 …”) Turns out Chuck was once such a superstar that he was a contender for the nightly news desk and had a figure at Madame Tussauds. But superstar fame slipped out of his grasp, and when his doppelganger was replaced with Air Bud, he decided to keep him locked up at home, like some kind of giant wax Dorian Grey.
Chuck decides to have Carol throw away the statue, but she resists because she’s terrified that Chuck’s irrelevancy means that her own dream of becoming an on-air personality is equally unlikely. Instead, she brings it up to the roof, where she’s already been hiding the spoils of an extreme-couponing binge, and ends up setting off a fake suicide scare. Terrified Chuck will jump, everyone in the office ends up admitting over a megaphone how much Chuck actually matters to them — even if, as in Glen’s case, the admiration is for the time that Chuck slept with his hot teacher and stole her underwear.
This installment is particularly notable for giving the actors a little more room to breathe than past episodes. Not trying to cram in as many jokes meant the ones that made the cut were stronger, and there were a couple of really nice moments of interplay, from Horatio Sanz and Tracey Wigfield flirting to Andrea Martin’s really thoughtful, nuanced confession of Carol’s fears to Chuck.
There is also no actual “news” in this episode, but I think that’s actually a good thing. The show plays stronger when it sticks to just being a workplace comedy with light sprinklings of the news element, rather than a fun-house version of The Newsroom. I could eventually see it having a sort of Parks and Rec universe of recurring minor news personalities (like last episode’s redhead army), but in these early days, I’d prefer to see the show focus on developing its characters.
Most of all, I enjoyed how this episode placed Carol and Katie on similar, parallel tracks instead of in conflict with each other. Grown women — myself included — all face moments where they end up being mirrors of their mothers, and recognizing that gives Great News more to do with the two leads than just have Carol driving Katie crazy. While I’m not sure I’m onboard with Carol’s insistence that Greg and Katie are destined for romance — like their TV co-workers, I still get more of a brother-sister vibe from Briga Heelan and Adam Campbell — I am very interested in learning what Carol and Katie have in common.
• Congrats to Great News on being renewed for a second season, with a bigger episode order too. Despite its soft initial ratings, I do think it has the potential to go places for NBC — it has something to offer both older and younger viewers, which is pretty rare in this era of Netflix-style segmentation.
• Great News is also the only show with the bravery to acknowledge the extremely poor quality of items purchased through extreme couponing. Carol, offering Chuck a tissue: “Here, have a Clonex. But don’t get it wet, because it crumbles into dust.”
• Chuck addresses the age-old question of flight vs. invisibility: “Flight. Sure, you can’t walk right into the ladies’ locker room, but you can hover. Near the ceiling.” [Taps head.]
• In addition to Taylor Swift, Portia is friends with Beyoncé. Greg: “Who knew her email was firstname.lastname@example.org?”
• I really enjoy this show’s commitment to working in funny senior-moment memory gaffes. Carol comparing herself to Julian Assange: “I’m like that white-haired lady on WackyLeaks. You know, she looks like the snow queen on Narnio?”