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The last time Alan Yang and Matt Hubbard collaborated with Maya Rudolph on a streaming comedy, it was Amazon’s Forever, an ambitiously strange and formally inventive examination of love and the afterlife. Other streaming credits for Yang have included Apple TV+’s Little America, an anything-goes anthological exploration of the immigrant experience, and the most recent season of Netflix’s Master of None, which audaciously (if not always successfully) extended the beloved, Emmy-winning series to include new characters and a new tone.
No strangers to using TV’s ever-widening landscape to tell often experimental stories, Yang and Hubbard are back with a new streaming comedy, Apple TV+’s Loot. The most unusual thing about Loot, it turns out, is where it’s airing.
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Loot is a low-rated NBC comedy transferred to a place where, if nothing else, the creators won’t ever need to know if it’s low-rated, which is bound to offer some succor to the veterans of perennial bubble-dwellers like Parks & Recreation and 30 Rock. Episodes definitely run a hair longer than broadcast sitcoms are permitted to, and there are a few four-letter words scattered throughout. But otherwise, this is a broadcast sitcom, right down to its general accessibility and the sense that its characters and tone are a work in progress.
At its best, Loot is in the vein of Parks & Recreation or The Good Place — an ensemble built around fundamentally decent characters trying very hard to do the right thing, or at least trying hard to understand what doing the right thing would look like in our complicated modern world. At its worst, Loot is in the vein of Mr. Mayor — an ensemble about goofballs tasked with doing the right thing, but shoehorned into a string of ill-defined workplace hijinks without a consistent enough hit-to-miss ratio to live up to the potential of the cast.
There’s a lot to enjoy about Loot, starting with its timely narrative and solid showcase for some of Maya Rudolph’s myriad skills. At the same time, it’s very much a show you’ll keep watching more for its potential than its immediately execution.
Rudolph plays Molly Novak, wife of tech mogul John Novak (Adam Scott, in what isn’t exactly a cameo, but also isn’t a big enough role for ongoing investment). It’s Molly’s 45th birthday, so he buys her a yacht with four swimming pools and throws an over-the-top bash at their over-the-top mansion in the Hollywood Hills.
Everything is going well until Molly discovers that John has been having an affair with his assistant. She demands a divorce and, because they had no pre-nup, she walks away with 87 billion dollars. This is all established 10 minutes into the pilot, but I could just as easily mention Melinda Gates or Mackenzie Scott and you’ll understand the shape of things.
Molly and her assistant Nicholas (Joel Kim Booster) are left to figure out how to fill time and spend money when Molly gets summoned to the offices of her charitable foundation by Sofia (Michaela Jaé Rodriguez), who has no patience with the way Molly’s drunken oats-sowing is impacting the foundation’s brand. Molly is intrigued by the no-nonsense Sofia and decides to commit to helping the charity, with its particular concentration on economic inequality in Southern California, do good. She and Nicholas soon find themselves working hand-in-hand with Sofia, Molly’s jovial cousin Howard (Ron Funches) and accountant Arthur (Nat Faxon), who bonds with Molly over their shared status as new divorcees.
By the end of the 10-episode first season, Loot begins to settle into something resembling a perspective on whether or not the solution to systemic inequality involves grotesquely wealthy people making more donations, but most of the season positions Molly in a way that’s aggressively inoffensive. Rudolph, with her rapier-sharp comic timing and cadences unlikely any of her contemporaries, is very difficult not to like at least somewhat, no matter your thoughts on the eating of the rich. That’s not exactly a problem, just a broadcast-friendly treatment of the character as oblivious, but fundamentally and innocuously benign. Molly is glibly frivolous when it comes to her money, but not in any way that suggests she has any serious lessons to learn and, indeed, from episode to episode Molly has little room to grow and little need to. It’s like A Christmas Carol if Scrooge started off giving his employees a long weekend for Christmas and, after being visited by three ghosts, tossed in an extra half-day. See also Ted Danson’s character in Mr. Mayor.
With minimal need for a visible arc, it takes no time for Molly to settle into her charitable routine, with complications only of the most easily resolved sort. Somehow even stranger is the ease with which Nicholas goes from wildly superficial and fabulous majordomo to semi-content cubicle drone, which only makes sense because what he really wants is to be an actor. Apparently. And it doesn’t even matter if these character traits make any sense, because Booster is every bit Rudolph’s equal when it comes to inspired comic reactions and loopy one-liners.
Molly’s wealth and insulation should make her at least a distinctive character. But once she gets squished into a workplace comedy structure in which only Sofia has demonstrable job responsibilities, she’s just a slightly richer but otherwise interchangeable member of a team that begins doing interchangeable sitcom workplace things like an abrupt spa day for the ladies and lunchtime drinking for the men. Everything would benefit from a clearer definition of Molly’s personality and of the foundation’s goals, which involve lip-service mentions of zoning boards and city council meetings (again, shades of Mr. Mayor, where Danson’s character and his staff were advancing policies without any grounding).
I’m using this review to muse out loud on the aspects of Loot that keep the series from coming together in its first season, because the reasons you’ll want to keep watching are so easy to spot.
Rudolph and Kim are funny together and they can easily provide notes of drama when the scripts, peppered with sharp one-liners, ask them to. I hate to say, “Make the second season more serious,” but if you have leads capable of bringing gravity, why not let them? Kim has a loose buddy rapport with Funches, whose praises as a smile-inducing scene-stealer I’ve sung repeatedly, and Rudolph has a sweet will-they-or-won’t-they chemistry with Faxon, capitalizing on a too-rare opportunity to play a character who may emerge as the show’s rom-com lead.
Coming off an Emmy-nominated Pose turn that had humor, but definitely wasn’t focused in that direction, Rodriguez maybe doesn’t look instantly comfortable in this format, but that passes in a hurry. By the second episode, she’s getting laughs, some quite large, with her dry delivery, as Sofia goes from just being a stern boss to finding her own amusement with the excesses that Molly’s status affords.
The room to grow is ample, and Yang and Hubbard have both worked on broadcast sitcoms that went from bumpy first seasons to masterpieces. Perhaps it’s just semantics that make a streaming series that could have aired on broadcast feel a little disappointing, or maybe it’s a decade-plus of believing that Rudolph was worthy of a classic series that makes use of all of her talents. Loot isn’t that series yet — Forever came closer, but may have been too arty and unpredictable to survive — but it could be. Just adjust your early expectations. Heck, there were a few really solid network comedies this year — Abbott Elementary, Ghosts, The Wonder Years, Grand Crew — so let’s pretend Apple TV+ wanted to get in on that action.
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