If anyone deserved a break after finishing the acclaimed run of Higher Name Saul, it was Bob Odenkirk.
Odenkirk spent six seasons delivering an Emmy-worthy efficiency because the lead in an Emmy-worthy present, and someway discovered a method to star in Amazon’s Undone, do a season of the Mr. Present-adjacent W/Bob & David for Netflix, play a key supporting function in The Put up and a absolutely arduous lead function in No one, and to slot in numerous cameos and visitor turns alongside the best way. With all that taking place, why aspire to be the cable model of David Boreanaz — a broadcast TV common with out pause since 1997 — on the identical time?
The Backside Line
Odenkirk holds this work-in-progress comedy collectively.
Airdate: 9 p.m. Sunday, March 19 (AMC)
Forged: Bob Odenkirk, Mireille Enos, Sara Amini, Diedrich Bader, Suzanne Cryer, Olivia Scott Welch and Cedric Yarbrough
Creators: Aaron Zelman and Paul Liberstein, from the ebook by Richard Russo
Nicely, if Breaking Dangerous was Odenkirk’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer (a key supporting function that turned extra necessary to the general present because it progressed) and Higher Name Saul was his Angel (a by-product that didn’t inherently appear to be an awesome concept, however turned arguably nearly as good as the unique), AMC’s new hourlong comedy Fortunate Hank may simply be his Bones.
In Fortunate Hank, Odenkirk will get to be first amongst equals in a deep ensemble — extra on that in a bit — on a collection which will lack the top-to-bottom inventive dedication of his earlier exhibits, however has the type of versatile engine needed for an extended run.
Primarily based on the 2 episodes despatched to critics, it’s straightforward to see why Odenkirk gravitated towards Hank Devereaux. It’s a great half, tailor-made nicely to Odenkirk’s strengths with out many traces of Jimmy McGill/Saul Goodman, with the potential to evolve into one thing nice. As for the collection? Nicely, it’s looking for an identification that’s separate from its Richard Russo supply materials. As of now, it’s principally a work-in-progress, however there’s ample potential for it to evolve into one thing good.
Fortunate Hank might have modified its title from Russo’s Straight Man, however it begins with the overall form of the novel. Hank is the top of the English division at Railton Faculty (standing in, fictionally, for the already fictional West Central Pennsylvania College from the ebook). When he isn’t coping with the varied petty grievances from the division’s low-achieving employees or enjoying racquetball along with his horndog pal Tony (Diedrich Bader, strong as at all times), Hank is struggling along with his personal insecurities. His father is a huge within the subject of literary criticism, whereas Hank wrote one decently obtained ebook a long time in the past and has barely began a second. He lacks the motivation to adequately train his college students, to adequately father or mother his 20-something daughter (Olivia Scott Welch’s Julie) or to correctly admire his endlessly tolerant gem of a spouse (Mireille Enos’ Lily). Hank is so exasperated by all people and every thing round him that he’d be quite a bit like Larry David on Curb Your Enthusiasm if he had sufficient motivation to be a dedicated curmudgeon.
The collection hasn’t actually gotten to the instigating occasion from the ebook — followers of the threatened abuse of waterfowl must be affected person — so the collection will get its preliminary juice from a classroom breakdown through which Hank’s rant in regards to the mediocrity of a pretentious and terrible writing pupil (Jackson Kelly’s Bartow), the college and himself goes viral. This places his place and presumably the funding for his complete division in jeopardy.
Russo’s novel did an excellent job of anticipating the conversations which can be ongoing in English departments across the nation, and collection creators Paul Lieberstein and Aaron Zelman have neatly prevented turning Fortunate Hank into some type of generational lament in regards to the eccentricities and entitlements of millennials or Gen Z; they typically duck the type of evocations of “wokeness” or “cancel tradition” that so many exhibits would take pleasure in below comparable circumstances. Possibly you need to have a sure academic-skewing humorousness to snigger at a professor insisting that “My ebook of sonnets on Jonathan Swift has develop into the benchmark in early feminist 18th century response poetry,” however I appreciated lots of the specificity to the colliding of egos on the heart of Fortunate Hank.
Because the character with the most important ego and the most important insecurity advanced, Odenkirk is phenomenal, balancing Hank’s mixture of erudition and self-loathing and embracing the story’s occasional bouts of zaniness, which early director Peter Farrelly really downplays from the ebook. It’s robust to write down a personality who isn’t motivated sufficient to have motivations and it should be even harder to play, however Odenkirk makes Hank relatably and frustratingly adrift. I’m positive some viewers will discover Hank unsympathetic. And he’s, particularly reverse Enos, doling out equal measures of radiance and put-upon domesticity. Retaining Lily’s spine and autonomy, a wrestle within the ebook, is likely one of the most necessary issues the present might want to do going ahead, and it’s one of many issues the present forgets to do within the second episode.
Within the ebook, the angle is completely Hank’s and if the supporting characters initially emerge solely as quirky foils, it’s as a result of Hank is so solipsistically fixated on his personal dramas — the looming specter of his father’s legacy, the looming blockage of doable kidney stones, the a number of girls he could also be platonically in love with — that he can’t see anyone else’s humanity. It’s a recipe for an awesome literary character however not essentially the protagonist of an ongoing collection.
After a pilot that retains Hank because the fulcrum, the second episode looks like a change after all with a watch towards elongation. I perceive and endorse the necessity to dimensionalize the supporting characters, particularly with an ensemble of very robust veterans together with Cedric Yarbrough, Suzanne Cryer and Oscar Nuñez, for the present’s long-term future. However the early secondary storylines handed to these supporting characters border on solely generic and even sitcom-y. Each time the second episode left Hank behind and adopted one of many different characters, my consideration waned — a nasty check in an episode through which I used to be already distracted by the questionable choice to have recognizable and usually terrific character actor Brian Huskey enjoying real-life literary titan George Saunders making a go to to Railton, reasonably than simply casting Huskey as a personality who was Saunders-esque.
Though I appreciated the place the Hank/Saunders storyline ultimately progressed, and I assumed Cryer performed the ultimate beat of her episodic plot superbly, the second episode positively didn’t make me really feel just like the writers had cracked the duty of enlargement that will likely be needed for Fortunate Hank to develop into a 10-season present reasonably than a two-hour film. I do need to single out Shannon DeVido, who steals each departmental scene as a deservedly infuriated movie professor. The present wants to search out methods to present Odenkirk and DeVido extra scenes collectively.
With humanities departments going through an existential disaster at schools and universities across the nation, Fortunate Hank may be very a lot a present of its second — the equally themed Sandra Oh Netflix collection The Chair might have suffered from being 5 minutes forward of the zeitgeist. This present’s capacity to settle in for a future is not going to depend upon Odenkirk, who’s immediately comfy with what must be one other indelible character, however on bringing every thing round him as much as his degree.