First things first: the protagonists of Free Agents, Alex (Hank Azaria) and Helen (Kathryn Hahn), two PR agents newly single after long-term relationships, are good ‘n’ charming. After being the funniest thing about How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days and Our Idiot Brother (and Anchorman, as the secretary who reveals that Ron Burgundy will read “a-ny-thin-guh” off a cue card), it’s about time Hahn gets to star in something. And obviously, I could listen to Hank Azaria name made-up sex positions for a few hours at least.
Less obvious to anyone who’s seen a commercial for the show is the surprisingly hilarious supporting cast. Natasha Leggero is amazing as a drily super-confident executive assistant, and Al Madrigal and Anthony Stewart Head also have great moments. Unfortunately, the pilot feels a lot like a romantic comedy in that the supporting characters are mostly there to facilitate exposition or set up plot points for the leads. Hopefully the show will flesh them out so the office characters are more than just “guy who says ‘awesome’ and ‘bro’ and ‘wingman’” and “guy who tries too hard and no one likes.”
The show is definitely capable of thinking outside the box of supporting character stereotypes though, as evidenced by Joe Lo Truglio’s extremely promising performance as a security guard whose primary hobby is testing different types of sword blades on meats (is it too early for a spinoff?). I’m excited to see the rest of the office characters get developed more in future episodes and start to gel into a stronger ensemble. Writer John Enbom was one of the creators of Party Down, after all. Dude knows ensemble!
Overall, with the slickness of the PR firm setting, the witty secret flirting and the jazzily upbeat music, Free Agents weirdly feels more like a pretty-fun romcom movie than a TV show. And that seems like the biggest possible pitfall for the show: Alex and Helen are so obviously made for each other that I don’t know how the writers can believably avoid getting them together for much longer.
For now, though, the central conflict of Alex and Helen each not being able to let go of their past relationships is handled well and not played too broadly for laughs. (The attempt to have a code word in particular feels like such a universal thing. Hasn’t everyone tried to have a code word to make sure things stay just-friends, all the while knowing you’re gonna just end up making out with the other person anyway?) So as long as there’s more talk about swords cutting meat next week, I’m cautiously optimistic.