In the farcical “Nightcap,” which premieres Wednesday on Pop – it’s a real network, where you can also find “Schitt’s Creek” – Ali Wentworth plays Staci Cole, a talent booker and producer on a low-rated, late-night show called “Nightcap With Jimmy.” (Another late-night show, another Jimmy.)
As a television comedy about making television, it is, broadly speaking, in the tradition of “The Larry Sanders Show, “30 Rock” and the workplace half of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.”
But its closest antecedent is “After Lately,” the backstage mockumentary companion piece to Chelsea Handler’s late “Chelsea Lately." That show’s co-creators, Brad Wollack and Tom Brunelle, are part of the “Nightcap” team, and director Johnny Milord, also from “Chelsea Lately,” performs similar service here.
Whether “Jimmy,” the never-seen nightmare host, is meant to be a reflection of Handler, I can’t say, but it’s safe to assume that some of the absurdities, rivalries and indignities pictured here are based on experience. Maybe not the head lice plot line, but you never know.
A shaggy, amiable trifle in which character is sometimes subservient to quips, it has the feel of improv sketch comedy on a night when the “A” cast is on. There are writing credits attached to the episodes (Wentworth, Wollack, Brunelle, cast member Brendan Clifford, another Handler vet), but the rhythms are those of actors who are not exactly sure what they’re going to say when it comes their turn to speak.
As in “Sanders" and Wentworth’s previous series, Starz’s delightful “Head Case,” in which she played a self-involved psychiatrist to the stars, celebrities appear as themselves. The guest star power is impressive, if mostly middle-aged -- a description, not a criticism -- and includes Sarah Jessica Parker, Paul Rudd, Gwyneth Paltrow, Whoopi Goldberg, Michael J. Fox, Denis Leary, Jim Gaffigan, Wendy Williams, Debra Messing, Mariska Hargitay, Rosie Perez, Tim Gunn and George Stephanopoulos (who, fun fact, is Mr. Ali Wentworth).
Younger generations are represented mainly by the supporting cast: Lauren Blumenfeld as Staci’s strange and overly devoted assistant (she is ready to carry a baby in order to secure better bookings for the show), and Don Fanelli as Jimmy’s “friend, producer” (read: lackey), get the most and the most prominent things to do.
Wentworth, who came to prominence in the cast of “In Living Color,” plays the closest thing to an adult here, but a goofball nonetheless, the perennially distracted shepherd of an unruly flock. With her quizzically arched or furrowed brow and the restless Lucille Ball motility of her features, her Staci seems to be processing the world at every moment without quite knowing what to do with any of it.
The series has already been renewed for a second 10-episode season.
When: 8 and 8:30 p.m. Wednesday
Rating: TV-PG (may be unsuitable for young children)
Follow Robert Lloyd on Twitter @LATimesTVLloyd