August 26, 2011


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Written by: Mitch Salem
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We’ve gotten this far without using the word “ghastly” to describe any of the busted pilots from this year’s development season, but that streak is about to end.  HELP WANTED, which was produced by Warner Bros for NBC, is unaccountably bad.  Partly that’s a function of its awful timing:  it’s a sitcom about a company that helps laid-off employees find new jobs, and while any subject can be funny if done well (and Up In the Air tackled similar subject matter brilliantly), squeezing laughs out of that very topical misery would require some finesse–which is not exactly this fiasco’s strong point.

At every step, Help Wanted chooses the broadest, dumbest form of comedy.  Our heroine Mary (the usually very talented Sarah Paulson–one of the few bright spots of Studio 60 On the Sunset Strip–here desperately unfunny) had quit her own job at an outplacement agency when she slept with the boss and he didn’t leave his wife for her.  This experience seems to have struck her directly in the IQ, since in the pilot she appears to be very close to an actual imbecile; she smiles, laughs, talks and even walks inappropriately.  (If Mary Richards had died, she’d be rolling in her grave.)  Mary has started her own company with the help of prissy Joss (James Adomian) as office assistant, and therapist Ken (Tim Meadows) to counsel the clients.  Ken is apparently meant to be colorfully crazy as only TV shrinks can be–he suffers from Seasonal Affect Disorder–but he comes off as far more rational than anyone else on screen.  
The contrivance count increases when one of the first ex-employees Mary has to deal with turns out to be Brad (Adrian Pasdar), who had a one-night stand with Mary, which in the pilot is treated as an event on the scale of a Victorian Age loss of virginity.  By the end of the pilot, of course, he’s joined the company and his painful will-they-or-won’t-they-again byplay with Mary would have been part of the series.  Meanwhile, the laid-off clients that the company is trying to help are treated as buffoons (you don’t cast Jennifer Coolidge as a guest star when you’re looking for subtlety), and one can only hope that these characters will find somewhere else to go for career advice.  (Maybe the actors, too.)
Why is Help Wanted so stridently bad?  Hard to tell.  The writer was Kari Lizer, a seasoned sitcom veteran of shows like Will & Grace and The New Adventures of Old Christine, so there wasn’t a lack of experience here.  Paulson, Pasdar and Meadows are all talented actors, and director Craig Zisk has handled nuanced shows like Weeds and Nurse Jackie successfully (although he’s done very little multicamera comedy, which may not have helped).  This might have been a case of a bad idea made worse by the network and studio–certainly it wouldn’t be the first time that’s happened.  In any case, the show is just a lousy mess, and its makers will hopefully go on to better forms of employment.
The Sked’s Verdict:  The Network Was (Spectacularly) Right
Read more about TV’s new shows at THE SKED PILOT REPORT.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."