There’s a reason why the word “likable” follows comedian Pete Holmes around. He is likeable, mainly because his comedy has an easygoing warmth to it that most of his colleagues don’t even try to muster. It’s why he’s been given a bunch of shows over the past decade or so, from his funny talk show on TBS to his two-season HBO series Crashing. Now he’s on a traditional multicamera sitcom on CBS. Does that warmth translate?
HOW WE ROLL: STREAM IT OR SKIP IT?
Opening Shot: As a bowling ball shoots out of a ball return at a bowling alley, a voice over says, “Here’s a crazy story. The craziest part about it is… it’s true.” A pro bowler picks up the ball; an crowd is in the background.
The Gist: Tom Smallwood (Pete Holmes) got laid off from the factory where he had worked for most of his adult life in the Michigan town where he grew up. He and his wife Jen (Katie Lowes) have been getting by, but just barely; their son Sam (Mason Wells) complains about the no-name Lucky Charms knock-off that “turned my milk black”, but Tom tells him that they’ve needed to economize since he got laid-off. But he wants the best for his family, as any dad would.
Since his layoff, he’s been at the local bowling alley, where the owner, Archie (Chi McBride), has been encouraging him to try out for the Pro Bowlers Association. Archie’s logic is sound: Tom’s recent average would put him near the top of the PBA, and certainly high enough where he could make more money than he did at the factory. Jen’s supportive but isn’t sure if it’s worth taking the risk.
And, while Tom thinks this is the perfect time to go for it, he’s learned from his mom Helen (Julie White) to always go for the safe choice. “Ask the people on the Hindenburg what they think about taking unnecessary chances,” she tells Jen when she visits her daughter-in-law at her salon. The safe choice is another factory job, and Helen has lined up an interview for him.
Tom, though, tells Sam that he should do what makes him happy, despite what others think; if he wants to wear his tap shoes at school, for instance, he should do that. But he thinks he can’t follow his own advice. It takes Jen working out some of the numbers and telling him that he should go for it to finally convince him to try.
What Shows Will It Remind You Of? How We Roll has the feeling of a classic CBS sitcom, along the lines of The King Of Queens or Everybody Loves Raymond.
Our Take: We really wanted to like How We Roll. Pete Holmes is a funny comedian who hosted a low-key fun talk show on TBS a few years back, as well as his own Judd Apatow-approved prestige TV comedy series Crashing; we want him to find a good show that will be on for years. Katie Lowes, Julie White and Chi McBride are among our favorite character actors. It’s based on the true story of the real Tom Smallwood, so there’s some real-life inspiration to be mined as the fictional Tom tries to become a top pro bowler.
But the first episode leans too hard on tired sitcom tropes, like the curly fry-eating Carl (Matthew J. McCarthy) — Archie’s Lanes is “The home of the Curly Fry”, after all — who is essentially there to be a peanut gallery for the discussions about bowling Tom and Archie have. Thankfully, it tries to mine humor out of the characters and situation instead of using pure gags, but none of those funny lines made us more than chuckle.
Plenty of sitcoms have overcome dud pilots, and what they almost universally have in common an appealing cast and potential-filled premise. Despite the lack of laughs, we found both in How We Roll, produced by TV veterans Mark Gross and David Hollander, along with actor Brian d’Arcy James. There was a warmth to the show that was evident from the start; it doesn’t treat Tom’s bowling dreams as crazy, maybe because they actually came true in real life.
Depending on how quickly or slowly the show gets to the point where Tom is actually making a living in the PBA, there are a bunch of situations where we can see the characters grow and find where their funnies are. How long that will take is anybody’s guess; CBS provided the pilot for preview, then episodes 4 and 5, indicating that, like most sitcoms, the first few episodes are as shaky as the pilot.
Sex and Skin: None. This is really a show you can watch with your kids.
Parting Shot: Referencing a lottery scratcher Sam got him (another gag that didn’t work), Tom says to Sam, “I got my third horseshoe.” He and Jen hug and kiss to his new adventure as a pro bowler; Sam says “gross.”
Sleeper Star: Boy, we do love Julie White; she kept us watching Grace Under Fire long after Brett Butler’s issues drove the show into the ground. It’s great to see her back on a sitcom, in a role we hope becomes more dynamic than “overprotective mother.”
Most Pilot-y Line: Because Archie’s Lanes is “Home of the Curly Fry,” we wonder how many curly fry references we’re going to get. We love curly fries, by the way; we just don’t think they’re a basis for a recurring sitcom gag.
Our Call: SKIP IT. As much as we like Holmes and everyone on How We Roll, we don’t see any signs that the show is going to get funnier, despite the warmth we saw in the pilot.
Joel Keller (@joelkeller) writes about food, entertainment, parenting and tech, but he doesn’t kid himself: he’s a TV junkie. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Slate, Salon, RollingStone.com, VanityFair.com, Fast Company and elsewhere.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism