Home‘Reboot’ on Hulu review: A sitcom disaster means comedy gold
‘Reboot’ on Hulu review: A sitcom disaster means comedy gold
September 26, 2022
Corny jokes and smart humor battle it out in “Reboot,” a half-hour comedy about a millennial writer’s effort to revamp an early 2000s family sitcom for a new generation of viewers. The behind-the-scenes satire, which premieres Tuesday on Hulu, follows the cast and creators of the old hit series “Step Right Up” as they try to reshape the show while capitalizing on its legacy.
Created by Steven Levitan (“Modern Family”), who serves as an executive producer alongside Danielle Stokdyk and Jeff Morton, “Reboot” is a fun, clever and self-deprecating sendup of an unimaginative, reboot-obsessed television industry, mining rich material from the generation gap between old-school boomer humor and fussy cancel culture.
In this paradoxical comedy, young writer Hannah (Rachel Bloom) pitches her idea for the reboot to Hulu with a vision of making it smarter and more realistic than its goofy predecessor. The original cast members sign on with Hannah’s promise that the show will be updated for a new era; Reed (Keegan-Michael Key), Clay (Johnny Knoxville), Bree (Judy Greer) and former child star Zack (Calum Worthy) then arrive on set with their old grievances and rivalries. Reed sees himself as a “serious” actor who’s been saddled with his sitcom persona for decades. Former bad boy Clay is a scandal and/or PR crisis waiting to happen. Bree is plagued by the ageism of Hollywood and her own insecurities. And Zack’s helicopter mom still accompanies her twentysomething son to the set.
But when the show’s original creator, Gordon (Paul Reiser), inserts himself back into the fold as a showrunner, Hannah’s plans for a modern makeover are challenged by his old-timey sitcom sensibilities. His idea of funny is culled from the 1980s and 1990s: Characters trip and fall for laughs, popcorn pours out of the dryer, there are boob jokes aplenty. Her humor is rooted in deeper questions about abandonment, longing and sexual identity. Gordon mentions SeaWorld as an example of a fun time. Hannah huffs at the idea. He shrugs, “Who doesn’t like SeaWorld? There’s dolphins there.” “The dolphins,” she exclaims.
The tension between the two is heightened by the fact that Hannah and Gordon also happen to be an estranged daughter and father with major issues that spill out at work. Her trio of fresh-faced writers are challenged by the veteran team that Gordon hires, making the writers room a wealth of material. The old folks make “insensitive and inappropriate” jokes. The younger crew use the Bechdel test to vet the work of their elders. The generation gap is highlighted in Gordon’s one word challenge to identify an inherently “funny food.” The millennial picks oatmeal. The boomer? Pickle.
“Reboot” is deeply ingrained in the entertainment ecosystem it lampoons. Episodes are titled with the names of old series like “New Girl” and “Growing Pains” and current shows such as “What We Do in the Shadows,” and there’s lots of references to the very streamer that carries the show. In the pilot, when concerns are raised about Hulu passing on a redux of “Step Right Up,” someone scoffs and points out that it’s the network that greenlighted a fifth season of “The Handmaid’s Tale.” Anything’s possible!
The chemistry among the cast members pushes this series from good to exceptionally funny in an endearing, dysfunctional sort of way. They capture the absurdity of rebooting a show that has no business returning and turn that disaster into great comedy in the process.