Sean Saves the World, the last of NBC’s trio of new fall comedies, debuts tonight at 9:30. Starring Sean Hayes in his first sitcom role since Will & Grace went off the air in 2006, the show is NBC’s lone multi-camera/studio audience sitcom and it’s part of NBC’s shift towards making broader comedies in the hopes of capturing a Modern Family-sized hit. But will Sean Saves the World be able to score the massive mainstream audience NBC desires, or will it fall the way of NBC’s batch of broader comedies from last season (Go On, The New Normal, Animal Practice, Guys with Kids, 1600 Penn) and get quickly canceled?
The series stars Sean Hayes as a divorced gay guy named Sean who’s recently reunited with his teenage daughter Ellie (played by newcomer Sami Isler). Sean is struggling to learn how to parent her while dealing with his company’s cartoonishly evil new owner (played by Reno 911! and The State’s Tom Lennon). Filling out the supporting cast are Sean’s overcritical mom Lorna (Linda Lavin, Alice), his best friend and co-worker Liz (Megan Hilty, Smash), and musician co-worker/friend Hunter (Ben and Kate standout Echo Kellum). We don’t get to see much of Liz or Hunter in the pilot, with most of the screen time being devoted to Sean, his daughter, and his boss, so it’s hard to tell exactly how the ensemble works together. Time will tell if these next few episodes see everyone gelling into a cohesive group or not.
Like The Michael J. Fox Show, which it shares the hour with, Sean is split between being a family sitcom and a workplace sitcom, although it does a good job of blending these two worlds in the pilot. Shows like Up All Night have struggled with splitting their focus between two fronts, but Sean Saves the World’s pilot avoids this and manages to unite both Sean’s home and work, making it feel like they’re part of the same show.
Another thing Sean has in common with The Michael J. Fox Show is a lead actor and character who comes from an underrepresented group in primetime TV. While Michael J. Fox and his character on his show are both disabled, Sean Hayes and his character here are both gay, making him the only LGBT lead character in a current TV comedy (Modern Family and Glee don’t count count as they’re ensemble shows instead of having one main character like Sean). While NBC is trying to turn back time to the Must See TV ‘90s with its latest crop of sitcoms, at least they’re moving forward and portraying a more diverse batch of characters and hiring more diverse stars.
It’s always hard to tell where a sitcom is going from its pilot. Sean Saves the World’s first episode isn’t doing anything new and a lot of the humor doesn’t land, but tons of good sitcoms from the past started slow with subpar pilots and Sean very well could do that too. There’s certainly plenty of promise here. Featuring an eclectic, accomplished cast and a creator/showrunner who’s made some smart, critically-acclaimed shows, Sean has a lot going for it. That said, it’s a little surprising to see Victor Fresco listed as the creator of something as pedestrian as Sean Saves the World. Fresco previously created quickly-canceled but weird, acclaimed shows like Andy Richter Controls the Universe and Better Off Ted, and he might just be able to add some of that sensibility to Sean in subsequent episodes. Sean Saves the World definitely has the feel of a ‘90s/early 2000s “Must See TV” sitcom; it’s just a matter of becoming as popular as a “Must See TV” show, in the ratings and with critics, that the show has left to do.