In Memoriam: Watch Free Agents

Every fall, writers and producers allow networks to send their baby pilots out into the open sea of primetime, where it’s sink or swim, and do it fast, because God knows, with the rise of cable programming, there are definitely no lifeboats at this shipwreck of scheduling. Ok, enough with that metaphor. But seriously, September is a terrifying month for anyone connected to television. While some early predictions on cancellations could be made (ahem, ahem, The Playboy Club), other shows become surprise knockouts (ahem, ahem, New Girl?). And still more shows fly under the radar. Free Agents died this death of ambiguity. A sitcom with solid writing, a good cast and absolutely no viewers. But it’s not really the viewing public’s fault.

Why do I care so much about this 30-minute, or more like 21-minute, sitcom? I don’t really. I care more about a sense of some primetime justice. I fight for the fledgling shows that never got the running start they needed. And I fight for Free Agents in particular because people other than Blake Lively should be allowed to “hook up” on the small screen. As far as I can tell, that was the major criticism of the show, made largely by people who never saw it. They have a point. It’s hard to make a show about a 40-something divorcee (Hank Azaria) and a 30-something wino (Kathryn Hahn) having an “are they-aren’they” relationship appealing to the audience that networks are looking for…millions and millions of 26-year olds.

But Free Agents had a lot to offer. Azaria and Hahn are fantastic comedic actors in their own right, and generated an amazing on-air chemistry in the four short episodes the show ran. Their timing was perfect, the pace was fast, and the jokes were modern and clever. Plus, Free Agents wasn’t just about these two. There was a well fleshed-out cast behind the pair, including the sharp Natasha Leggero and charming Anthony Head. The supporting characters formed a broader world, making Free Agents into more of an all-out workplace comedy than the ads (all one of them?) would have you think. And this formula allowed for a greater range of storylines to draw viewers in. Case in point: Leggero’s character, Emma, was a sassy, ambitious executive assistant at the PR firm where Alex (Azaria) and Helen (Hahn) work. She’s critical and to-the-point, making her good at her job, but bad at flirting. Helen tries to help transform her into a smooth seductress to snag a hunky i-banker, but to no avail. It’s all over when Emma reams the guy for being a fan of 90’s pop group, The Spin Doctors. Leggero captures the conundrum of a hard-assed working woman trying to maintain her femininity with hilarious accuracy. You have to see it. It’s still on Hulu.

Free Agents represents another one of those shows that just can’t get the attention it deserves in the spread out variety of today’s TV market. Scheduled at 8:30pm on Wednesdays, it fought an uphill battle against Survivor Season 1,327, The X-Factor aka American Idol v9.0, and the new ABC sitcom Suburgatory, which did 3 times better among 18-49 year olds than Free Agents. Ouch. More than that, in the pre-premiere advertising onslaught, Free Agents got ignored in the face of relentless promotions for fellow new NBC sitcoms, Up All Night and Whitney. I could’ve lived with a few less of those Whitney ads in my life. “Half of all marriages end in…sweatpants.” Har, har, har.

With such a quick trip to the chopping block, Free Agents exemplifies a scary new reality in TV (besides all the reality TV). A show has to make it or break it on its first two episodes. Where would great shows, like say, Seinfeld, be in this situation? Cancelled. Yeah, maybe Free Agents would never have been Seinfeld, but now we’ll never know. I say TV shows should get a chance to breathe and grow. Seinfeld, Parks & Recreation, etc. Can the networks please give us a chance to make up our own viewing minds? Sorry, sometimes it takes us awhile to get around to stuff. We have a lot of Whale Wars backed up on our Tivo.

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