NEXT CALLER: TBD Midseason on NBC – Change the Channel
If you were going to do a satire about network television in the vein of Episodes, one that required a show-within-the-show to illustrate how hackneyed and witless a TV sitcom could be, you might well make it about a burned-out, sexist–but secretly sensitive–radio shock jock (played by a stand-up comic famous for being loathed like, say, Dane Cook), forced to share his air with a naive, small-town, romantic, all-but-virginal–but underneath it all, determined–new co-host, and you already know where this is going, right? Because that show exists, and with all too depressing predictability, it’s coming your way later this season on NBC, which used to be a proud TV network.
The adage is not to say anything at all if you can’t say something nice, and it’s fair to excuse the cast of Next Caller from the generally awful quality of this show. Yes, that includes the much-maligned Dane Cook, who may not have been wise to choose this as his TV series vehicle, but who performs convincingly in character throughout (this isn’t a fluke, either–whether the version of himself he played on Louie was “acting” or not, he was impressive doing it). Collette Wolfe, as his rapid-talking co-host, was charming on Cougar Town, and will no doubt be charming again somewhere else. In support, the show has no less than the wonderful Jeffrey Tambor as the head of the satellite radio outfit where the pair have their show (in the pilot, he mostly makes jokes about jalapenos and threatens to fire one or the other lead). For that matter, the millieu of satellite radio, where hundreds of niche channels share cramped quarters, is at least a different spin on the radio-show setting–and the production design of the studios is quite attractive. Also, Mark Buckland, whose directing credits include My Name Is Earl and Scrubs, keeps things moving.
All of this, though, is overwhelmed by the single-minded obviousness of everything in Stephen Falk’s script (he’d previously been a mid-level writer on Weeds). Next Caller scrambles to put every possible cliche in its cart, like a Top Chef contestant who has 22 minutes at Whole Foods to buy all the courses for a catered affair of bad television. Cook’s Cam Dunne, hungover and wearing a CBGB t-shirt under a leather jacket, throws derision and sexism at women… but it’s really because he has a broken heart, ever since the one woman he truly loved left him. (And, sob, he’s never gotten over her!) Wolfe’s Stella Hoobler is all about theory and not real life, which we know because the pilot seems to have her tell people about magazine articles she’s read a dozen times. Even on its own terms the show doesn’t make sense: Stella, hardly meant to be blithely casual, moves from Colorado to NY without even starting to find a place to stay, and when, in about 30 screen seconds, she turns the author of a hateful “dating” guide to exploiting women’s weaknesses into his sniveling true self, who just longs to ask a nice girl out to coffee–which you would think management, if not listeners, would consider an accomplishment of some kind–no one even seems to notice.
Next Caller comes from the same NBC mindset that gave us Whitney and Are You There, Chelsea? last season, one that seems to believe the way to move the network forward is with crassness and trite banality. If NBC’s Olympics, for all their time-delay trickery, represent broadcast television at its all-inclusive best; Next Caller is why people watch cable.