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‘Champions’ review: Good-natured sitcom, but that’s enough

Andy Favreau, left, J.J. Totah and Anders Holm

Andy Favreau, left, J.J. Totah and Anders Holm form a sitcom household in "Champions." Photo Credit: NBC / Jordin Althaus

THE SERIES “Champions”

WHEN | WHERE Premieres Thursday at 9:30 p.m. on NBC/4

WHAT IT’S ABOUT Vince (Anders Holm, “The Mindy Project”) and his kid brother, Matthew (Andy Favreau), run a gym in Brooklyn, when one day, a former girlfriend of Vince’s comes calling. Priya (Mindy Kaling, a recurring character) drops off the son they had together and who he never knew. Michael (J.J. Totah) is resentful but willing to give this new living arrangement a try — not so easy because he’s gay and is obsessed with musical theater. Other members of the gang at the gym include Ruby (Fortune Feimster, “The Mindy Project”), spin instructor Shabaz (Yassir Lester), and Uncle Bud (Robert Costanzo), boxing instructor and relic from another century. This was created by Kaling and Charlie Grandy, a veteran writer from “SNL,” “The Daily Show” and “The Mindy Project.”

MY SAY As sitcoms go, “Champions” is good-hearted and well-meaning. Those are fine qualities and just to put them in perspective: If everyone was good-hearted and well-meaning, then there’d never be any wars; the “Real Housewives” franchise would have been canceled long ago; the White House would be like the PlayPlace at McDonald’s; Russians wouldn’t interfere with U.S. elections, but instead offer helpful hints; Arie Luyendyk Jr. would never have been “The Bachelor;” and TV critics would be genuinely nice people who’d say only nice things about TV shows, which would then help them to go on forever, or at least as long as “Grey’s Anatomy.”

So to recap, well-meaning and good-hearted are wonderful qualities. But the world, like TV shows, does not subsist on them alone. TV shows need a lot more, and TV sitcoms in particular need balance, tone, perspective, filters and funny lines. But what “Champions” needs is almost besides the point, because what it already has is more than enough, and in fact too much. That includes an over-abiding affection for pop cultural markers in every other line of dialogue. Over the first three episodes, a very partial sampling includes Jake Gyllenhaal, “October Sky,” Billy Eichner, Brie Larson, Blake Lively’s nose and Meghan Markle — specifically, “She’s not getting along with the queen’s corgis because they can tell she did basic cable.”

You begin to count them, then you begin to lose count, and finally you start to wonder what other slightly dated pop references will arrive by the next scene, like YOLO, or “catfish” or “yas queen.” It’s exhausting, really.

“Champions” wants to be liked, and it is likable, but maybe just a little too eager to earn points. The premiere actually ends with a cover of Queen’s “We Are the Champions,” which is then followed by a hug. “Champions” needs a hug too, a reassuring one, and some advice. First on that list: NO hugs. Yas, queen.

BOTTOM LINE Good-natured, eager to please and not as funny as its pedigree says it should be.

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