There is so much talent involved in the new sitcom Crowded, I’m inclined to take its almost total lack of laughs as a fluke, a quirk, a harmless little bump in the road in the careers of stars Patrick Warburton and Carrie Preston, creator Suzanne Martin, the likable young performer Miranda Cosgrove (iCarly), and the fine actors who help fill out the supporting cast, Stacey Keach and Carlease Burke.
The premise: Just as Warburton’s Mike and Preston’s Marina think they’ve got a nice empty nest, their two grown daughters (Cosgrove and Mia Serafino) move back in, and Mike’s parents (Keach and Burke) decide not to retire to Florida. Suddenly Mike and Martina’s life is crowded, get it?
Crowded, premiering on NBC Tuesday night, is conceived by Martin (Frasier; Hot In Cleveland), with episodes directed by the great James Burrows (it was on this project that he directed his 1,000th episode of television and which occasioned his recent two-hour NBC salute). It is a multi-camera sitcom with a studio audience, a format that’s not much-used these days, but still has a lot of life in it — witness the funniness of NBC’s other new, much better sitcom, The Carmichael Show.
Crowded, though, is hung up on tired sex jokes — Mike and Marina don’t get enough of it; they’re slightly concerned their daughters may be getting too much of it. I watched three episodes, one of which deploys guest star Betty White in her go-to sitcom function — the horny old lady — with little entertainment value.
Keach’s character is an Archie Bunker-style conservative — right down to his choice of heroes: he says he misses Richard Nixon “every day.” Preston, who made such an Emmy-winning impression as eccentric lawyer Elsbeth Tascioni on The Good Wife, is stuck in an ill-defined role as a smart therapist who nevertheless become flighty and silly when talking about sex. Really, it’s only Warburton who’s able to muster the rare amusing moment, and that’s not because of his lines, but rather the way he delivers them, with his unique combination of squints and grimaces and slow-drawl responses. It was recently announced that Amazon is going to revive The Tick, a show Warburton starred in, gloriously, from 2001-2002. Too bad that, as things stand now, he’s not going back to that role. (He was, however, recently cast in Netflix’s adaptation of Lemony Snicket’s a Series of Unfortunate Events.) But as I said, all of the talented people involved in Crowded are bound to do better soon.
After its premiere on Tuesday, Crowded airs Sunday nights at 9:30 p.m. on NBC.