Irreverent family sitcoms are part of the DNA at Fox, a network that established itself with “Married ... With Children” and has been airing “The Simpsons” and “Family Guy” since roughly the end of the Pleistocene Epoch.
The latest entry in this not-so-hallowed tradition is “The Mick,” a fish-out-of-water comedy about Mackenzie, a.k.a. “Mickey” (Kaitlin Olson), a hard-drinking Rhode Island grifter who suddenly finds herself in charge of her estranged sister’s three spoiled children and an enormous Greenwich, Conn., mansion.
Created by brothers John and Dave Chernin, two former writers on the FXX comedy “It’s Always Sunny In Philadalphia,” this series is an attempt to transfer that show’s famously outrageous sensibility — as well as Olson, one of its stars — to Fox.
Featuring jokes about Planned Parenthood punch cards and numerous scenes of minors being drugged, gagged or hit in the face (sometimes all three), it is a show designed to provoke as much as entertain. (Cue the condemnatory press release from the Parents Television Council in 3, 2, 1 …) This trait even extends to its title, an ethnic slur passing itself off as a nickname.
That it is sometimes very funny has much to do with its leading lady. Olson brings the same dissolute charm she wields as bartender Dee “Sweet Dee” Reynolds in “It’s Always Sunny,” but it’s not enough to overcome an unfortunate tendency to mistake vulgar excess for subversive humor.
When we meet Mickey in the opening sequence of the pilot (which airs Sunday before the show drops into its regular time slot on Tuesday), she’s dressed in soiled pajamas and doing whip-its in the aisles of a grocery store. (This is basically the extent of the character’s backstory.) After cleaning up with some pilfered mouthwash, she heads to a picnic thrown by her sister, a former topless dancer who married into money, with the apparent goal of shaking her down for some cash. But the reunion is cut short by a visit from the FBI, which arrests Mickey’s sister and brother-in-law on fraud charges.
And just like that, Mickey is thrust into the unexpected role of parent. Needless to say, she is not a natural fit for the job, and her sister’s children are, to put it mildly, challenging. The eldest, Sabrina (Sofia Black-D’Elia, “The Night Of”), is a sullen high school beauty with a quasi-activist streak and a jet-setting social life.
Middle kid Chip is a litigious middle-schooler who believes “the scales of justice tip in favor of the wealthy.” (He’s played by Thomas Barbusca, who portrayed a similarly obnoxious brat in “Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp.”) The youngest, Ben (Jack Stanton), is a wide-eyed innocent not yet spoiled by the domestic chaos — but, hey, just give it some time.
Mickey’s quasi-family is rounded out by boyfriend Jimmy (Scott MacArthur), who comes to stay in Greenwich, and housekeeper Alba (Carla Jimenez).
If you think you know what comes next — that the kids eventually warm to Mickey, helping her discover an untapped gift for parenting, learn to become A Better Person and adjust to life among the 1% in Greenwich — then allow me to disabuse you of that notion.
To its partial credit, the show resists this easy sentimentality. Mickey’s instincts are as disastrous as you might expect. She tells Chip to respond to a bully by ridiculing his penis size and tries to scare Sabrina into thinking she’s pregnant by drugging her with ipecac syrup. (This is one of those shows that probably ought to come with a “don’t try this at home” warning.)
There’s no hugging and no learning, but I’m not sure that what the show offers instead — joke after joke relying on the shock value of seeing a child say or do something inappropriate and adults acting irresponsibly — is really much better or, for that matter, any less formulaic.
Olson can sell lines like “I cannot count the number of times I’ve been ripped off a bar stool and thrown in a cage.” With gangly limbs, big, expressive eyes and an entire vocabulary’s worth of colorful grunts and groans at her disposal, she’s equally good at nonverbal comedy.
The series offers an overdue showcase for Olson’s talent, and the increasingly over-the-top set pieces — watch Mickey as she attempts to retrieve a drug-filled balloon from the stomach of a 7-year-old! — offer a sort of train wreck appeal that is enough to sustain the first few episodes.
But both the show’s protagonist and the world she inhabits are underdeveloped. All we know of Mickey is that she’s broke, she owes money to a loan shark, and she dresses like an off-duty actress in vintage rocker tees and skinny jeans. She blacks out twice in the pilot, but her debauchery is portrayed as a lovable quirk rather than a sign of deeper dysfunction.
It would help if we knew anything about her upbringing, or even her relationship with her sister, but the show doesn’t seem interested in anything as touchy-feely as basic character development.
Ultimately the show feels like a shallow exercise in provocation. Once the incessant attempts to offend grow wearisome, there’s not enough here to bring you back for another round.
When: 8 p.m. Sunday, 8:30 p.m. Tuesday
Rating: TV-14-DLV (may be unsuitable for children younger than 14, with advisories for suggestive dialogue, coarse language and violence)
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