Alibi V.19 No.32 • Aug 12-18, 2010 

Idiot Box

Standard Situation

“Big Lake” on Comedy Central

Given its impressive pedigree (Will Ferrell, Chris Henchy and Adam McKay of the website Funny or Die are among the creators/producers), viewers might reasonably expect big things from Comedy Central’s new sitcom “Big Lake.” What they’ll get for their anticipation is a weekly dose of standard sitcom fare.

“Big Lake” exploits America’s economic woes as background. But that’s really just the setup for the first episode. Don’t go expecting a lot of timely commentary (or any, really). The show centers around alleged financial genius Josh (a role that was supposed to go to Napoleon Dynamite’s Jon Heder but ended up in the hands of unknown Chris Gethard). According to the show’s mythology, Josh was a young Wall Street wiz—at least until he bankrupted his employer and lost all his parents’ money in some unexplained financial shenanigans. Now he’s crashing on his disappointed parents’ couch in small-town Pennsylvania until he can pay back their nest egg.

In all honesty, Gethard doesn’t demonstrate a lot of charisma in the lead role. At least there are a couple ringers in the cast. Horatio Sanz from “Saturday Night Live” gives good second banana as Glenn, Josh’s best friend from high school. Chris Parnell (the awesome Dr. Spaceman from “30 Rock”) rounds out the cast as Mr. Henkel, Josh’s burned-out high school history teacher. Together, our three main man-boys find themselves embroiled in assorted doomed schemes, all aimed at making some dough—from selling an autographed Barry Bonds baseball to opening a Lee Harvey Oswald-themed tourist attraction.

For the first couple of episodes, anyway, the characters remain thinly sketched. Basically—like the characters in a lot of Ferrell’s movies, it must be noted—they’re just a bunch of slacker screwups. Josh’s patience-tested mom and dad are—for all intents and purposes—the exact same parents from “That 70’s Show.” Just to shake things up a little, the creators have added the crazy character of Josh’s little brother, a foul-mouthed, gun-toting 13-year-old criminal kingpin. (Huh?) He’s not so much a character as a joke—one that will undoubtedly wear thin the 10th or 11th time the cute little tyke pulls a gat on his brother and threatens to pop a cap in his ass.

Like all classic sitcoms, “Big Lake” is centered almost entirely around the family’s living room couch. Josh’s dad conveniently owns a restaurant, providing the requisite Food-Based Second Location (see also: The Regal Beagle from “Three’s Company,” Big Al’s from “Happy Days,” The Pizza Bowl from “Laverne & Shirley,” Tom’s Restaurant from “Seinfeld” and Central Perk from “Friends”). Helpfully, a laugh track-enhanced studio audience is there to remind you when to laugh.

It’s not that “Big Lake” is bottom of the barrel. (It beats watching “Two and a Half Men.”) It’s just that—in today’s world of edgy, innovative, single-camera comedies—this sort of standard-issue sitcom (potty mouth or no) feels like it belongs on the FOX network lineup circa 1993.

“Big Lake” premieres Tuesday, Aug. 17, at 11 p.m. on Comedy Central