TV Critics’ Roundtable: Can “Sean Saves The World” Save Itself?

Sean Hayes, Samantha Isler, Linda LavinCan Sean Saves The World take the gay sitcom torch and run with it?

Oh, the gay sitcom.

It’s a spectacular and welcome feat that we now live in a time when there are a plethora of gay characters on television but, also, we now have series centered around gay characters. Sure, we’re still stinging after the failures of last seasons’ excellent The New Normal and disappointing Partners, but this fall we’ve been given a new chance to have a successful gay series in Sean Saves The World.

In the NBC sitcom, Sean Hayes plays a single gay man taking on the full-time parenting role with his teenager daughter, Ellie (Samantha Isler) and learning how to juggle home, his demanding job with a new boss (Thomas Lennon) and a meddlesome mother (the wonderful Linda Lavin). Echo Kullum plays a co-worker at Sean’s job while Megan Hilty (Smash) is Sean’s longtime friend, Liz.

How is the show doing after three outings (the fourth airing tonight)? We asked top TV critics Damian Holbrook (Senior Writer, TV Guide Magazine), Jarett Wieselman (Editorial Director, ETonline), Jethro Nededog (Senior TV Writer, The Wrap) and our own Entertainment Reporter, Jim Halterman,  to break down Sean Saves The World and here’s what they had to say.

TheBacklot: Three episodes of Sean Saves The World have aired. What are your general thoughts on how it’s doing creatively?

Damian Holbrook: The second and third episodes were far more entertaining and less ham-handed than the pilot, which suffered from an excessive “I’M A GAY!” exposition. Bringing in Megan Hilty was smart, but the really intelligent move was pitting her against Linda Lavin for most of their stuff. Their bitchy banter is gay heaven.

Jethro Nededog: I think the writing is actually very good. But, I would like to see Sean Hayes really let loose.

Jarett Wieselman: In short, not well. there’s not a ton of laughs to be had on this comedy. I spent more time grimacing at “jokes” than I did laughing at them.

Jim Halterman: It’s definitely not must-see TV at this point and, for a comedy, I’m not laughing very much or, for that matter, charmed by what I am seeing. That said, the show isn’t a complete disaster, but it better do some fine tuning fast.

TBL: Some casts gel pretty fast and feel like they belong together early on. How’s the Sean cast doing?

Jarett Wieselman: The cast’s chemistry is a bright spot. Sean, Linda and Megan are great together, but chemistry only takes you so far. It helps to have good material for them to bring to life.

Damian Holbrook: Honestly, half the cast could go and not impact the show. Echo Kellum is a needless character—oooh, the sarcastic office slacker, never seen that guy before—and Thomas Lennon, good lord, what is he doing here? The guy is spectacularly talented, and he’s reduced to an unlikeable and– worse yet– unfunny boss role? The writers don’t seem to know what to do with him yet. Is he heartless and corporate as in the pilot, or is he lovelorn and prone to office hijinks as he was in the periodontist date episode? I don’t get it.

Also, I know the show is about a single dad, but the dad-kid stuff is weak sauce. I refuse to believe that a gay man has never watched a lifetime of TV shows about single dads to already know the “lessons” Sean is supposed to be learning about raising a sassy teen.

Jethro Nededog: There’s still some timing problems between the cast. I usually give a few episodes for that to resolve itself. So, I guess we need to check it out.

Jim Halterman: In the home setting, there’s a chance for a good show to emerge here as Lavin, Hilty and Hayes are fun in a group. But for a show that’s hugely supposed to be about a single Dad raising a teen, the teen is lacking distinct characteristics to make me want to get to know her better. (I couldn’t help but think back when they gave Jack a kid on Will & Grace and, well, that kid was eventually written out because it just didn’t work). The work place fodder is all forced and is nothing we haven’t seen a million times.

Sean Hayes, Linda Lavin, Megan HiltySome of the best scenes in the show come when Hayes, Lavin and Megan Hilty are together.

TBL: It might make sense that Hayes is only occasionally falling back on his Jack-antics from Will & Grace (mostly the slapstick in the pilot) but would the show benefit from some of that zaniness? Do we need a Karen Walker type to play off Sean?

Jethro Nededog: YES. I need Sean to break out. And, I’m sorry that Megan Hilty seems in over her head. Thank God for Linda Lavin!

Damian Holbrook: I kind of feel like Linda Lavin’s Lorna is what Karen would be like in her 70s. I would love to see how the dynamic between her brittle, selfish character and Sean would be if the writers made them more partners in crime than the bickersons they are now.

Jarett Wieselman: The show needs to dial up the crazy, big time. Sean Hayes plays manic incredibly well — and this week’s date was a perfect example of Sean playing to his frenetic strengths. Obviously he can’t be a total lunatic and a father, but there’s definitely room to amp up the insanity.

Jim Halterman: While it was hard to watch some of the slapstick in the pilot, the show could use some zaniness to up the energy a little bit. Sean doesn’t have to become Jack, but he also needs to be someone we want to laugh at and want to hang out with. His banter with Linda Lavin is fun, but that’s mostly because of her. I don’t think I want to see Sean Hayes be the ‘straight’ man to everyone else’s lunacy.

TBL: The show is juggling work and home for Sean. Is that working… or should it stick to one or the other?

Jim Halterman: Workplace is unnecessary mostly because it lacks any energy at this point and just comes off as ’the place that isn’t home.’ I’m holding out hope that the home life will end up being the primary focus.

Damian Holbrook: I have watched every episode and still have no idea what Sean does, nor do I actually care. That’s a bad sign.

Jethro Nededog: It works for me. Both are handled as very flat locations that don’t drive storylines. I mean, what the hell does Sean do?

Jarett Wieselman: The show can’t decide if it wants to be a workplace comedy or a family comedy and it’s pretty unsuccessfully straddling the two worlds, constantly bringing characters from both across the divide. The result is the feeling that Sean works with his family and lives with his co-workers.

TBL: Megan Hilty deserved better than what Smash ended up delivering. Is SEAN a step in the right direction?

Jethro Nededog: NO. She is in over her head. But, I didn’t like her on Smash either, and I don’t think that was just the writing.

Damian Holbrook: It’s a step, but not a huge one. She was the saving grace of Sean’s storyline on Smash and I do enjoy their friendly chemistry, but I would love to see her doing something that really lets her unleash. Doesn’t Glee need a busty blonde foil to go up against Santana?

Jarett Wieselman: Megan is better than the material, once again. She’s a bright, shining star with pretty decent comedy chops, but every episode leaves me wanting so much more for – and from – her.

Jim Halterman: Please give Megan Hilty something interesting to do. The banter with Lavin is gold but the writers can’t fall back too much on Lorna commenting on Liz’s oozing breasts. I’m hoping a Liz-centric episode is coming soon.

Linda Lavin, Sean HayesLove! Love! Love! Lavin is spot on as Sean’s sardonic mother, Lorna. 

TBL: Linda Lavin – the Godsend to the show or does she need to tone down the overbearing Mom act?

Damian Holbrook: MORE LINDA LAVIN. ALWAYS. The overbearing mom act would work a lot more if Sean wasn’t also such an overbearing dad. We only need one control freak and Lavin’s restrained, almost ominous approach to “caring” is the good stuff.

Jarett Wieselman: Linda is wonderful on the show, love everything she’s doing. Perfectly perfect.

Jethro Nededog: Linda Lavin plays the most hilarious role on the show. What I love about it is that she’s really developed her own unique timing in the role. She’s still got it.

Jim Halterman: She is the one thing about the show I don’t think needs much work. Lavin can do anything they hand her and make it work, but the show is not “Lorna Saves The World” so they need to bring everyone – including Sean – up to her level.

TBL: Sean does have a dating life thus far. Do you want to see him settle down and explore a relationship or better he be single for awhile?

Jim Halterman: Definitely single for awhile since there can be a lot of fun in that. Last week’s episode with Robert Gant was a step in the right direction and the writers can reveal more about Sean in these various dates, which would be a good thing for the show. And while I was initially annoyed at The New Normal’s early focus on making every episode about a gay-centric issue, Sean Saves The World could use a little topicality and a point of view on things going on in the world.

Jarett Wieselman: I thought the date episode was one of the show’s strongest (not saying much), so it could be good to mine lots of comedy from exploring Sean back in the dating world. Plus, producers could bring in some big-ish name guest stars for him to woo and NBC to promote! I mean, think about how many Will & Grace viewers would tune in if Eric McCormack guest starred as a potential date in one episode!

Jethro Nededog: I think “dating Sean” should be put away like the elf on the shelf for the first season. Let’s develop his home and work life first before we start the dating thing up with its possibility of more characters even before we’ve truly gotten to know the ones we already have.

Damian Holbrook: No, he needs to be single and date only sporadically. Every episode can’t be “Sean, you need a man!” or it becomes tiresome. Nor do we need is a parade of guest stars who don’t fit or spark with the ensemble. The patient is still in critical condition.

Sean Hayes, Megan Mullally, Debra Messing, Eric McCormackDoes Sean Saves The World need a big dose of Will & Grace lunacy?
(l-r, Hayes, Megan Mullally, Debra Messing & Eric McCormack)

TBL: Assuming you are laughing during the show, who is bringing the most laughs? 

Jethro Nededog: Linda Lavin for the win here. There’s potential for Echo Kellum’s character that hasn’t quite been realized yet.

Damian Holbrook: The Lavin-Hilty scenes have become my reason for paying attention. Oh, and openly gay god Robert Gant as the periodontist. That man….whooo!

Jarett Wieselman: the good news is Sean Hayes brings the most laughs. the bad news is he also brings the most groans. His joke-to-laugh ratio is still hovering around 50 percent. Not a great thing when you’re the lead of a show.

Jim Halterman: I find myself laughing the most at Linda Lavin though Thomas Lennon has slid a few funny moments in there. But for a comedy, the bulk of it is not inducing too much laughter.

TBL: Finish this sentence — If I could fix one thing about this show it would be ______________??

Damian Holbrook: …to hire the writers of Better Off Ted, because they knew how to juggle workplace and single-dad comedy with a killer cast and sharp, arch comedy.

Jethro Nededog: …the team dynamic needs to come together. I would also develop the work life more and revisit Sean trying to bond via overcompensation with his daughter.

Jarett Wieselman: The writing.

Jim Halterman: ….the writing. I don’t blame any of the actors for the lackluster situations and overall comedy and, yes, it takes time for the writers to get to know their actors’ voices and what works best for them. However, I see other freshman sitcoms like Fox’s Brooklyn Nine-Nine that already feel like a well-oiled machine. Will Sean Saves The World get the time it obviously needs?

Robert Gant, Sean HayesQueer As Folk’s Robert Gant guested last week as a potential BF for Sean

TBL: Prognosis that Sean Saves The World lives beyond its first 13 episodes? First season?

Jarett Wieselman: I would be shocked if NBC saves Sean by giving it the back nine — and even if it does, I think we’re talking one and done. Sean’s other shows for the network (Grimm, Hollywood Game Night) are way more profitable & successful, so I wouldn’t be surprised if NBC would rather have him producing than acting.

Jethro Nededog: In many ways NBC is interested in keeping its talent in the family (Hello, Chelsea Handler-produced Whitney!). Because of Hayes’ history with NBC’s golden era and the fact that he’s an EP on Grimm, I foresee this finishing out its season just to show good faith in the relationship (Hello, Ryan Murphy’s The New Normal!).

Damian Holbrook: I give it a full season. The numbers have been ticking up, but the notices haven’t been solid.

Jim Halterman: With NBC’s Thursdays comedy lineup already crumbling (Welcome To The Family cancelled, Parks & Rec soon going off until January), I’m thinking NBC will give it some time. Plus, as Jarett stated, Hayes has a few other shows at the network so there’s going to be element to keeping him happy for now. But we’re at a time when shows aren’t given too much time to prove themselves and, for Sean Saves The World, the clock is ticking…loudly.

What do you think of Sean Saves The World? Can it be saved and thrive or best put it out to pasture?

Sean Saves The World airs Thursdays at 9pm on NBC.