'Free Agents' premiere review: Managing to make sex not sexy or funny

Free Agents — a.k.a., The Hank Azaria and His Amazing Pectorals Show — is an odd failure of a sitcom. The thing should work (it’s got the talent, for sure — Todd Holland directed the pilot; Party Down‘s John Enborn is co-creator) but the debut episode on Wednesday night was flat and sometimes just plain embarrassing.

By embarrassing, I’m referring specifically to the early scene in which Azaria’s Alex is forced by his boss, Stephen (Anthony Head) to talk about his most recent sexual encounter. It would require a lewd vocabulary of Louis C.K.-esque proportions to make that sort of demand funny. But because this is broadcast TV, the series of euphemisms Alex is compelled to come up with were just stop-the-show dull, and Stephen glee seemed forced. (I’m not usually one of those the-Brits-do-it-better kind of guys, but I did watch the original, British version of this sitcom, which BBC America will air next month and which also co-stars Head, and it was much better, because the sex talk was more blunt, more imaginatively absurd, more — how can I put it? — dirty!)

The other unaccountable flaw in Free Agents is that Azaria seems to have zero chemistry with Kathryn Hahn’s Helen. Hahn is a very good actor (she plays one of the few characters I find interesting in HBO’s humid Hung), but she and Azaria, for all their laughing, crying, and sexing, just don’t spark to each other…

…in the first episode, I am compelled to add. Sometimes it takes a while for a show, especially a sitcom, to find its rhythm, to discover which characters, and characteristics of those characters, work. For me, Free Agents was a laugh-free half-hour. Bur especially since it’s paired with Up All Night, I’m bound to watch it again and see if it gets better.

Perhaps you disagree…

Twitter: @kentucker

Comments (56 total) Add your comment
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  • kevin

    Free Agents is one of the worst new sitcoms in years. I’m placing my bet to be the first new show of the season to get cancel. :(

  • Burton guster

    ken, I usually agree with your comments, but I disagree with you on this one. I liked the show, and thought it was funny at some moments, and kind of romantic at some. Yes, it wasn’t outright hilarious, but I don’t it was meant to be. I will definitely be giving this a chance… Yes it can definitely improve, and I hope it does, but I don’t think it was an outright flop.

    • Jose

      I totally agree.

      • Larinda

        The show was horrible. Azaria is an ackward bozo that should stick to doing voiceovers for cartoons.

      • jully2

        Hi, I ám a síngle teacher, nów I ām sēēking a gréǎt man. I hāve sōme phōtǒs ōn $$ himillionaires-c o m $$ . It īs a spěcíal dátíng sité fòcusíng help sínglě rich mán or prětty girl fǐnd rómancě and there’s no scàmměr (I hate scammer), só I spend most of my ōnline tīme there.. My scrèèn nāme is jully2020. e…you don’t have to be rích. If you are īnterested, add mè. I hope your day wént wěll and I hópe tǒ héǎr fròm you sǒǒn.

    • kate middleton

      I agree with Ken. I didn’t find it funny at all (only laughed at the Armenian gangster’s acquittal party line, but NBC ruined the laughs by showing it in the promo). I also didn’t think Hank and Kathryn had any chemistry, and I had no reason to “root” for them. Not sure if I’ll watch again, but hopefully it gets better.

  • EdZ

    Ken, I was prepared to not like this show, but with nothing else to watch tonight, sat through it, and really liked it. I thought Hahn was great, and Azzaria good, too.

  • Jay

    This show seems to be polarizing from the various reviews I’ve read. I actually kind of liked it. It’s not perfect, but I’ll give it a chance.

  • Cris

    I came into tonight hoping to love Up All Night and prepared to dislike Free Agents. Turned out I really disliked Up All Night (though I’ll give it a few more weeks to get running), and I found myself really enjoying Free Agents. It’s not perfect by any means, but again, it’s the first episode. Heck, it took Parks and Rec a full season to become Parks and Rec. And it was nice to see Anthony Stewart Head back on TV.

    • sherberr3

      Totally agree. Up All Night left me totally flat, I’m not sure I managed a smirk the whole episode, and I’m literally living that life, I don’t think that bodes well for the show. This on the hand I liked, it has room for growth and I’m more interested in where this is going than the other.

      • sherberr3

        Holy crap, half the reply is missing, sorry, but I don’t feel like typing it out a 3rd time, so feel free to ignore. I’m really not as uneducated as that post sounds.

    • David

      I agree with the Parks & Rec comment – I know it doesn’t always click right away – but this was just a complete misfire. IT’S ON TV! SHOULDN’T THEY HAVE AT LEAST SOME OF THE KINKS WORKED OUT? Why should I expect it to get that much better now… most shows try to start with SOMETHING. Oh well, I can’t imagine these two (this an Up All Night) making it past this year at the longest anyway… so few shows do I doubt these will be the exception.

    • Cyndi

      I agree. I didn’t find Up All Night funny and I enjoyed Free Agents more. I’ll probably give them both a couple more chances to see where they go. But they are both going to have tough Wednesday night competition against Survivor and the ABC sitcoms. I’ll leave these off my DVR and catch them online.

    • Jill W.

      I completely agree. Up All Night left me flat, but I was unexpectedly charmed by Free Agents. I will give them both a chance, but so far, I like Free Agents better.

      • Nacho

        Your show notes slpeoir murdered the drama of your first eviction. I rec in the future you wait to list ‘evicted!’ until the episode AFTER they are evicted. So next episode’s notes will still only show Alex as evictedDig?

  • Jennifer

    Deleted Up All Night and plan on telling hubby to watch Free Agents. Up All Night got on my nerves with everyone saying “Right?” ALL the time.

  • Jon

    Up All Night was the real bomb of the night, considering all the preseason hype. There wasn’t much hype for Free Agents, so it’s disappointment wasn’t so bad.

    • MMJ

      Agree @jon. Up All Night was pushed a lot more and did not live up the hype. I didn’t expect much from Free Agents (NBC+Britcom remake=Bad Show) and wasn’t disappointed. I want to check out the original to see if it’s better or worse than what I watched Wednesday.

      Though I really like Anthony Head (and a lot of the cast, actually), I’m not recording and would only watch if nothing better was on. I may give it another show to see if it picks up, but I’m not holding out a lot of hope.

  • Map

    I think Free Agents, has potential. Will watch the next few episodes to see if it gets better. Up All Night, was awful, IMO.

  • Kyle

    I disagree with a lot of the comments I thought Up All Night was great and Free Agents was bad. Wasnt funny at all.

  • Journay

    I actually liked the show. I love Hank and Anthony Head and I thought it was a good start. It wasn’t laugh out loud funny like ‘Up All Night’, but I still found it to be a perfectly decent premiere ep. I haven’t seen the show that inspired it, but I’m definitely going to check it out when it airs. The Britcoms are generally more ‘bawdy’, and that in itself can amp up the funny, but I wasn’t disappointed with this show. I’ll give it a chance. I hope it is given the chance to get it’s legs.

  • Amy

    Was so disappointed by Free Agents. As a huge Buffy fan, it was wondering to see Anthony Head back and he was the only good piece of an otherwise TERRIBLE pilot episode. I think the best word to describe would be incredibly annoying. I’ll still be watching, though, for Tony Head, so here’s to hoping it gets better…

    • Vagabond 360

      So agree with your comment!!

  • Waynew

    Gone in 3 weeks.

  • pjbaade

    I enjoyed Free Agents and thought Hahn and Azaria had great–potato–chemistry!

  • MYK

    Nope. Wrong and wrong. [Bored] All Night was the true failure. Flat and uninteresting. And no, Rudolph didn’t make things better. Her one-note Oprah channeling has her playing a caricature, not a character. Not much to be said of Applegate or Arnett except that they were there too.

    Free Agents [the one I didn’t expect to like], I did. Azaria and Head were good. Hahn doesn’t belong in this role and, as the reviewer correctly noted, has zero chemistry with anyone, much less Azaria. But the writing was fairly sharp even if toned done for an American (at 8:30PM) audience. I’m not sure what is was about “John Stamos’ brother, Jeff, maker of erotic statuary”, that didn’t evoke even a chuckle from Mr. Tucker, but it gave me a good laugh.

    I’ll give ‘em both another shot, but I’m not sure either will last. One because it’s bad; the other because I like it.

  • Peter N

    It Reminded me of the awkwardness of the BBC Original.

    I felt just like the office it needs to find it’s niche and make this version it’s own

    but i’ll watch so more

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