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‘Superior Donuts’ review: CBS comedy doesn’t offer many laughs

Tracy Letts' play becomes an NBC series with Judd Hirsch as the old-school Chicago doughnut-store owner and Jermaine Fowler as his new employee, who has thoughts about bringing the business into the 21st century. Credit: CBS

THE SERIES “Superior Donuts”

WHEN | WHERE Previews Thursday at 8:30 p.m. on CBS/2 before moving to its regular time slot, Mondays at 9 p.m.


WHAT IT’S ABOUT Arthur Przybyszewski (Judd Hirsch) has run a doughnut shop in a rough Chicago neighborhood for years. He’s crusty, set in his ways and has only a few customers, like cops Randy DeLuca (Katey Sagal) and partner James Jordan (Darien Sills-Evans), or blowhard Tush (David Koechner). One day, Franco Wicks (Jermaine Fowler) comes looking for a job, and Art’s world, and doughnuts, are about to change. This was adapted from Tracy Letts’ Tony Award-winner of the same title, which had limited runs in Chicago and on Broadway in 2008 and ’09.

MY SAY “Superior Donuts” is a “Give a Mouse a Cookie” sitcom. You know the kids book — if you give a mouse a cookie, she’ll want milk, then a straw, and so on. It’s called “association,” and these may be the mouse/cookie associations you get with “Donuts”:

Watching, it’ll remind you more of “Chico and the Man” than an acclaimed stage play. So it will then make you think of Freddie Prinze, who committed suicide in 1977. Then you’ll be sad.

Or watching, you’ll remember all the genuinely funny shows Hirsch, Sagal and Koechner have been in over the years, from “Taxi” to “The Office,” and realize this doesn’t begin to belong in that company. You’ll still be sad.

Watching, you’ll be surprised at the sheer number of double entendres that can be crafted from the words “doughnut” and “doughnut hole.” Then you’ll be annoyed.

Or watching, you will be forcibly reminded of the crime stats in Chicago — 52 killed, 300 shot in January alone — then wonder if a sitcom, however well-meaning, could even begin to make sense of those or address those or at least acknowledge those without diminishing their sheer scale or horror. (“Donuts” does tangentially address gun violence in the opener, and in the second episode, Arthur gets a gun.)

Then you’ll be morose.

So those are the associations, or at least those are mine. You may discover others, like these: Fowler’s an energetic and appealing screen presence, for example, or the cast is a surprisingly diverse one, or the donuts actually look pretty good. (Then maybe you’ll want a glass of milk, and a straw . . . ) Otherwise, most roads lead to sad, which is probably not the best place for a sitcom to end up.

BOTTOM LINE Reminiscent of “Chico and the Man” (the mid-’70s NBC sitcom about a cranky garage owner and his Chicano employee), but it also aspires to a contemporary relevance — but manages only a weary crustiness.


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