As a member in good standing of the Ron Livingston Appreciation Society, I am always happy to see the star of "Office Space" and "Band of Brothers" at work. He is usually up to something; it is not as if he needs my good thoughts to find work. Lately, he's been in the Alia Shawkat sitcom "Search Party" and has a recurring role on "Dice." Now he's the star of "Loudermilk," a 10-episode comedy from AT&T Audience Network, available through DirecTV and AT&T U-verse. Yes, a telephone company makes television; it's a crazy world!
Created by Peter Farrelly, who with his brother Bobby co-directed "Dumb and Dumber" and "There’s Something About Mary," and "Colbert Report" writer Bobby Mort, it's a generally appealing show, if not in every respect convincing. In spite of the fact that Farrelly directed all the episodes, on the evidence of the six (of 10) available for review, the show feels unsure of what it wants to do.
Loudermilk — he's one of those characters everyone calls by his last name, like Quincy or Columbo — is a former music journalist turned maintenance man and a former drunk turned sobriety meeting leader. (This feels like a self-created position; he is not, seemingly, accredited.) He has left in his wake a couple of books whose titles speak volumes: "Negative Creeps" is one, after a Nirvana song; "All You Need Is Love and 500 Other Songs to Kill Yourself To" is another. Although he declares himself done with writing, Loudermilk is still full of opinions, about music and other things, and he shares them, irascibly, without hesitation or regard for the interest of the person he's talking with, or at.
Livingston is 50 now, but there is a sense in which he has always been 50 — that as a young man, he was just waiting for the years to catch up him. (At the same time, he's a "young 50.") As a leading man, he's a solid guy with something just a little too askew, a little too internally rumpled, to be wholly successful as a leading man; it’s also what’s kept him interesting. The priest whose premises Livingston uses for his sessions tells him, "You're not warm and fuzzy. You're hard and angular and uncomfortable. You're like an IKEA chair that leads sobriety meetings." That fits.
Loudermilk shares an apartment with his sponsor and self-described only friend, Ben (Will Sasso). Though I watched all six of the available episodes, it occurs to me that I can't say what Ben does apart from share an apartment and occasional misadventures with Loudermilk, and argue with him about the coffee maker. (He's a comic, maybe? He jokes a lot.) It's a nice apartment too, and rents in Seattle, where the Vancouver-produced series is set, aren't cheap.
Into their life, and their apartment, through a bit of convenient blackmail comes Claire (Anja Savcic), a troubled rich girl well down the Highway to Hell. When we meet her, she's a cartoon version of a teenage junkie, sullen and raccoon-eyed and stripping for money, with an equally cartoonish mother who calls going to rehab "enrolling in one of those heroin schools." When Claire gets clean — with such easy alacrity it can hardly be called a spoiler (except for the ease and alacrity) — her part improves as well. There is always the threat she’ll backslide, the sword that dangles suspensefully over all addiction stories, but as such stories go this is no "Days of Wine and Roses,” let alone “The Panic in Needle Park."
Meanwhile, across the hall, there's a new neighbor, Allison (Laura Mennell), who interests Loudermilk and who seems to be interested in him, though there will be many stones in this path, most of them placed there, you will not be surprised to learn, by Loudermilk himself.
Some episodes revolve around individual members of Loudermilk's support group out in the world, sometimes leaving all the main characters behind. (The supporting players are very good, in any case.) Loudermilk is portrayed at times as a grudging counselor, and at other times an overly involved one. And though I can't speak from experience, my guess is that some of the tactics he and others employ here in the name of recovery cross traditional boundaries, and, even when they get results, can seem ill-considered, liable to backfire and potentially dangerous.
Though it feels contrived at times, or willfully outrageous — this is Peter Farrelly of the Farrelly Brothers, remember — it can also be authentically charming. Livingston and Sasso have especially good chemistry, and Savcic fits in well with them. Even when the plot feels contrived, it’s not uninteresting; even where the characters are underdeveloped, you root for them. (This includes Ben and Claire — Sasso and Savcic fill in the blanks as they can.). Given long-arc ambitions and unfinished business, Loudermilk being as broken as any of his charges, I expect that the remaining episodes will put some spin on or add some depth to what’s come before. But even if it doesn’t, “Loudermilk” won’t have wasted your time.
Where: DirecTV Audience Channel
When: 10:30 p.m. Tuesday
Rating: TV-MA (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 17)
Follow Robert Lloyd on Twitter @LATimesTVLloyd