NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Friday, February 19th.
Thank you for listening to WORLD Radio today. We’re glad you’re here.
Good morning. I’m Nick Eicher.
MYRNA BROWN, HOST: And I’m Myrna Brown. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: Netflix isn’t exactly known for its clean original series.
But Megan Basham says, with one new comedy at least, the streaming platform may be turning over a new leaf.
MEGAN BASHAM, FILM CRITIC: Netflix has broken a lot of ground in the entertainment business since it launched the streaming revolution back in 2013 with its first original series, House of Cards. That show was famously dark, subversive, and crammed with R-rated content. From that point, pushing the envelope seemed to be the platform’s go-to strategy. Educators, parents, and psychologists alike slammed its original teen drama 13 Reasons Why for glorifying suicide. Animated kids series She-Ra and The Princess of Power regularly features transgender characters. Netflix even added lesbian aunts to its adaptation of the classic 19th century novel, Anne of Green Gables. Then, in September, the company went too far, angering American audiences and attracting the attention of lawmakers with Cuties, a film that featured 10-year-olds twerking. A January report attributed 1 in 10 Netflix cancellations last quarter to that debacle.
Perhaps that’s why the streaming giant has now decided to go in the one direction it hasn’t really tried before—traditional.
CLIP: Could you get Jessie to sign this for me? The line is so long. Is this what ugly people feel like all the time? You’re asking the wrong guy buddy.
The most shocking thing about Kevin James’ new workplace sitcom, The Crew, is how at home it would be on good, old-fashioned broadcast television. James, the one time King of Queens, stars as a NASCAR crew chief with an eccentric team working under him. There’s the handsome but dopey driver. The neurotic, insecure engineer. And the are-they-really-just-friends female office manager. The series even has a live studio audience.
CLIP: What did Bobby always say the best deodorant was. That’s a trick question, he never wore the stuff. He said the best deodorant was winning. Nothing gets rid of the stench of failure like victory. Yeah, well I hope it worked on failure because it didn’t work on Bobby. I’m literally your only friend left so you might want to watch the tone. Okay let’s not forget Ted from Bass Pro Shops. Yeah, that’s right. I went in for a fishing rod, came out with a soul mate.
Given the red-state setting, perhaps it’s no surprise that the show begins with a joke about the team’s Pavlovian response to the national anthem. As soon as that Star Spangled Banner starts, hats come off and arguments halt mid-sentence till it’s over. It’s a cute moment, especially refreshing because it’s clearly laughing with the characters, not at them. It’s even a little brave for the pilot to faithfully depict racing culture in this way, given that the anthem has become such a lightning rod in professional sports.
That’s not to say the show is political in any pointed sense. When the boss retires and his Ivy League-educated, millennial daughter takes over the team, Southern and Silicon Valley values clash plenty. But it rarely feels intended to target a whole class of people.
CLIP: I just don’t understand why everybody loved my dad and hates me. Nobody hates you. Well there’s a 13-minute long voicemail that says otherwise. We don’t hate you. We just hate everything you do and the way you do it. But that’s all. Other than that you’re golden. Alright, good talk, thanks. Look, you’re new here and we have a history with your dad. And by the way, when he would hire someone he would trust them to do their jobs. Yeah, well, that’s a two-way street. If my dad had an idea, I bet you wouldn’t have said, Well that’s impossible. And that’s not the way we do things around here. And I won a race 30 years ago in Talladega. Okay, I’m not sure who that’s an impression of. And it was Darlington.
At times, The Crew even feels like a bit of a throwback for traditional TV. Though it has some mild profanity and off-color jokes here and there, there’s nothing like the rapid fire double-entendres audiences have come to expect from some of the biggest sitcoms of recent years like Modern Family or The Big Bang Theory.
I recently got a chance to talk to James about his latest venture and how surprisingly clean it is for Netflix. Here’s what he told me:
JAMES: I always love doing it, because it’s basically a family friendly comedy too. It transcends, so it’s not just so you’re watching it with the kids and it’s boring for the adults. But it’s engaging for adults and it’s also fun and you can feel comfortable watching it with your whole family. And you don’t find too much of that now. So it’s hard to find that. I know when I sit down with my kids I don’t want to be uncomfortable watching stuff.
The Crew’s approach may feel a little stale for viewers used to the more modern single-camera style of shows like The Office. But my general rule of thumb with comedy series is to give them several episodes before judging as it often takes that long for the cast to gel and find their collective brand of funny. True to form, The Crew’s jokes get better and the chemistry gets stronger as the series goes on. By the fifth episode, James and crew have it running like, well, a well-oiled machine.
So far, Netflix’s surprising shift seems to appeal to a lot of people. When I checked the platform’s overall U.S. popularity rankings yesterday, The Crew was sitting at number 5. Not bad for a new dog performing old tricks.
I’m Megan Basham.