Each episode of "L.A. to Vegas," a perfectly OK situation comedy debuting Tuesday on Fox, begins with a card that reads, with mock import, "There are people who fly every weekend from L.A. to Vegas. This is their story."
In the usual way of sitcoms, it’s really the story of just half a dozen characters who spend most of their time trading setups and punchlines.
I have never flown from L.A. to Las Vegas. Perhaps it is a flight as eventful and unpredictable and unmindful of FAA regulations as seems to be the case here.
But this representation seems more constructed than observed, a contraption of comedy ideas, some special-ordered, some secondhand. (The series creator is Lon Zimmet, who has written for "Superstore" and "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt" — shows whose different tones at different times "L.A. to Vegas" shares.) You can see the rivets, if you bother to look, but you’re better off not bothering.
Dylan McDermott plays Capt. Dave, a pilot for fictional Jackpot Airlines whose romantic self-image is heavily, if tenuously, invested in his being able to call himself “Captain Dave.” Ronnie (Kim Matula), hot mess, and Bernard (Nathan Lee Graham), gay and caustic, are his flight attendants. Copilot Alan (Amir Talai) hovers just outside the main cast, winsomely.
The regular commuters on their run are Colin (Ed Weeks), an economics professor who goes to Las Vegas to visit his toddler son; Artem (Peter Stormare), a Russian, I suppose, gambler, with no sense of boundaries; and Nichole (Olivia Macklin), a chirpy stripper who works weekends at a gentleman's club called Grapefroots, where you get "free fruit salad with every lap dance." (The club also has, another joke indicates, a Montessori school.)
Within the first three episodes (as many as were available to review), Capt. Dave and Ronnie will both attempt to leave their jobs; each dreams of flying to more glamorous places. Bernard, who has been around long enough to have seen Elizabeth Taylor throw an earring at a baby, is happy enough where he is: "Of all those destinations, Las Vegas is the most enchanting place there, a place where tigers are liberated from their dirty jungles and acrobats can make a living. Do you really want to leave this?"
It’s nice to see Weeks back onscreen so soon after the end of "The Mindy Project" in part, I admit, because I miss that show. The role here only partially resembles the uptight, overthinking, somewhat pathetic Englishman he played on "The Mindy Project." (Some of his lines as Colin, though — "I was just clearing my throat; the accent makes it sound judgmental," and, "in Britain we try to die like a cat, in a quiet corner, burdening no one" — might easily have come from the earlier comedy.)
Weeks’ Colin and Matula's Ronnie are the ones sitcom convention has nominated as potential romantic partners. The fact that they have little chemistry and themselves make the point that they'd make no sense together will not help them escape the mechanical cycle of attraction and repulsion they are fated to endure.
But overall the show is at its least convincing as the story of people having any kind of genuine interaction — even though they will come to understand themselves as a family, as in every sitcom ever.
“L.A. to Vegas” is best at parodying heroic and romantic stances — that is to say its success rests largely on the shoulders of McDermott. His Capt. Dave — whose life is frustration and failure, which he tries to hide behind what he imagines is charm — is somehow the most fully fleshed and complicated of the characters, even as it runs to caricature. It’s an oddly sweet performance; McDermott, whose career has lately been marked by dismal, dour dramas, has a gift for the absurd. (The whole cast, it is worth saying, is good.)
Like much television comedy, and like the flight it portrays, “L.A. to Vegas” has a routine, milk-run reliability. The trip is relatively free from turbulence, there are some things to see (and treats from the service cart if you’re lucky), and you are back on the ground almost before you know you’re flying. There is something to be said merely for not crashing.
‘LA to Vegas’
When: 9 p.m. Tuesday
Rating: TV-14-DLS (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14 with advisories for suggestive dialogue, coarse language and sexual content)
Follow Robert Lloyd on Twitter @LATimesTVLloyd