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A cleverly written, delightfully acted spoof of Hollywood’s obsession with calling “do-over” on retro television series, Reboot brings a deep bench of talented cast members and a generous helping of inside baseball surrounding the TV industry.
Emmy-winning Modern Family co-creator Steve Levitan created the series, and he was also a writer on Frasier, Wings, and another TV series spoof, The Larry Sanders Show. The cast line-up includes Emmy winner Keegan-Michael Key (Key & Peele and Schmigadoon!), Emmy-winning Crazy Ex-Girlfriend co-creator and star Rachel Bloom, Judy Greer (13 Going on 30 and Arrested Development), Jackass star (and surprising comedy scene stealer) Johnny Knoxville, Mad About You star Paul Reiser, Reno 911! Co-creator and star Kerri Kenney, Eliza Coupe (Happy Endings and Scrubs), Calum Worthy (Austin & Ally), Krista Marie Yu (Dr. Kenand Last Man Standing), and Rose Abdoo (Hacks, Gilmore Girls).
Reboot had me at its show-within-a-show format (one of my personal fave TV genres). It not only spoofs the plethora of reboots that have peppered TV line-ups the last few years, it specifically pokes some cheeky fun at sappy, yet endearing family sitcoms like Full House. The family comedy-within-the comedy here is called Step Right Up, and 20 years after the series’ cancellation, hipster indie filmmaker Hannah (Bloom) signs a deal with Hulu (how meta) to reboot Step Right Up, with plans to make it a smarter, less hack-y comedy, written with her fellow hipster scribes (yes, of course there’s a Harvard Lampoon alum on staff).
But reboots don’t come together as simply and smoothly as the sheer number of them would suggest, In this case, Hannah turns out to have a special, and potentially problematic, connection to the original Step Right Up production, and the original cast didn’t end that production on the best of terms — with each other or with Hollywood. One on-set couple suffered an awkward break up (Key’s Reed and Greer’s Bree); lead actress Bree ran off to get married and become a European princess; foul-mouthed comedian Clay (Knoxville) was so drunk and drugged that Andy Dick called him out of control; and Reed alienated everyone when he quit the show for what he thought would be greener showbiz pastures.
That led to the Step Right Up cancellation, which, for various reasons that would spoil the fun to reveal here, means all the cast members pretty desperately need the reboot opportunity and payday … except former child star Zack (Worthy), the lovably naïve adult who is, twist, the most well-adjusted series alum, and also the wealthiest, thanks to the string of post-series teen movies he starred in.
Once they do all reunite, the real fun begins. Reed and Bree’s old feelings aren’t as dead as they assumed they were (the good ones and the ones that sparked multiple splits back in the day). Despite trying to embrace sobriety, Clay continues to be drawn towards chaos, including a fling with a randy stage mom (Kenney) that could blow up the new series before it ever makes it to air (or rather, stream). Then there’s the return of original series showrunner Gordon (Reiser), who comes back with an old school writing staff of his own, setting off a war between young and old, woke and politically incorrect, fresh jokes and broad comedy bits. And he has a personal conflict or two that could also derail Step Right Up’s rebooted future. That would be a shame, for all the promise the new Step Right Up offers, and all the rehabbed relationships the reunited, and very likable, characters might enjoy.
Like the early, best seasons of Levitan’s Modern Family, Reboot’s most entertaining aspects are its mix of humor and heart. There are many laughs to be found in the string of titles of Zack’s Olson twins-ish movies (like Minor Miner, in which he was trapped underground, and Mini Maestro, in which he played a kid conductor) and the unlikely bonding of the new and, ahem, mature writing staffs (led by the raunchiness of scene stealer Abdoo). And even after 20 years of estrangement, it’s a sweet journey to see the Step Right Up cast and crew reconnect on personal levels, too.
Viewers hungry for ABC’s old TGIF line-up and classic sitcoms in general, but with a substantial sprinkling of the sensibilities of more modern, streaming comedies … and, okay, who also have an appreciation for the appreciation of that which is entertainingly mockable.
The first episode of Reboot is titled “Step Right Up,” but all the other episodes are named after other TV sitcoms: “New Girl,” “Growing Pains,” “Girlfriends,” “What We Do in the Shadows,” “Bewitched,” “Baskets,” and “Who’s the Boss.”