Review: ‘Deadbeat’ treats its ghosts with an into-the-light touch
The extremely likable Tyler Labine, whose constitutional buoyancy has kept him bobbing back into view even as the ships beneath him (“Mad Love,” “Sons of Tucson,” “Animal Practice,” the relatively long-lived — two seasons! — “Reaper”) go one after another to the bottom, is now the star of “Deadbeat,” a new paranormal stoner comedy on Hulu.
He is, in that respect — to get a little inside for a sentence — the David Walton of Actors Who Are Regularly Compared to Jack Black, whom he resembles in shape, beardedness and a certain rockitude. But Labine has softer edges; his characters tend to be sweet, disheveled and underachieving even when, as here, they are extraordinary gifted.
Labine plays Kevin, a bumbling New York City medium. We have seen the people who see dead people so often now that nothing in it seems unusual or unfamiliar. Indeed, Labine has trod similar ground before in “Reaper,” where he helped dispatch escaped demons back to Hell, and the quickly extinguished 2001 WB rock-themed supernatural series “Dead Last,” in which he also helped restless spirits move along.
But it’s that casual, unsentimental, rarely dreadful approach to the spirit world that makes “Deadbeat” pleasant company; the dead are just other people in Kevin’s life and, apart from his drug dealer and best, which is to say his only, living friend, the unfortunately named Roofie (Brandon T. Jackson), the ones he gets along with best.
Creators Cody Heller and Brett Konner both wrote for “Wilfred,” another series whose hero has an ordinary relationship with a character invisible to everyone else; this is altogether lighter fare — there is a joke, for instance, about a company called Arab Spring, which is run by Arabs and makes springs — not as deep, but not as demanding either. The unresolved business that keep these ghosts tied to Earth is on the whole mundane: to win a hot dog-eating contest; to lose an embarrassing nickname; to have sex once; to get the kitchen painted a certain color. Everybody goes into the light.
Along with the bountiful drug jokes, which have become as conventional as the drunk jokes of an earlier age of intoxication, Kevin is inconsistently represented as a dunce who pronounces “exploited” as “exploitered,” can’t tell an actor from the character he plays on television and maintains an improbable crush on nemesis Chamomile White (Cat Deeley of “So You Think You Can Dance”), a successful, glamorous medium he knows to be a fake and who abuses him verbally and physically. “If she’s this incredibly mean to me and I still want to have sex with her,” Kevin says, “that’s got to be true love.”
“Deadbeat” might have profitably stayed in the oven a few minutes longer, might have been subject to a few more critical conversations in the preparing of it. Still, it’s a series I look upon, out of my fondness for Labine, with quasi-paternal indulgence. I recommend it, in spite of its failings.
There are tonal fluctuations, dissonant notes, at least one laborious set-up for a payoff that never comes. There are jokes that make me look aside, and jokes that are so tired, so predictably unpredictable (putting bad words in the mouth of a nun, for instance) that they put the whole enterprise to sleep, until some better gag comes along to rouse it again. But they do come along, the better gags.
Guest stars include Jason Biggs, Darrell Hammond and Samantha Bee, as the owner of a haunted comedy club, who gets perhaps my favorite line in eight episodes: “Mr. Tim Allen is performing here tonight, and he hates ghosts.”
When: Anytime, starting Wednesay
Rating: Not rated
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