THE SHOW “The Great Indoors”
WHEN | WHERE Premieres Thursday at 8:30 p.m. on CBS/2
WHAT IT’S ABOUT Jack (Joel McHale) is a world-class outdoors high-adventure journalist who works for an “Outdoor”-like magazine. When he returns to the home office after roaming the world, a shocker: The staff is now composed of 20-somethings, like techy Clark (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) who have no idea how to report, or any idea what the “outdoors” is. But they do know how to Snapchat. Jack wants to quit, but the editor, Brooke (Susannah Fielding) — also daughter of the now-online magazine’s founder Roland (Stephen Fry) — convinces him to stay to teach the youngsters a thing or two. At least poor Jack has his local bartender, Eddie (Chris Williams), to help him understand these social-media-loving kids.
MY SAY “The Great Indoors” is a Joel McHale series for anyone who has never heard of Joel McHale. Everyone else will want to know who this new Joel McHale is and — yup — what has he done with Joel McHale?
The transition isn’t just jarring. It’s that jarring, and the consequence of having played a character for five seasons (or six if you care to count the Yahoo! one) on a show, “Community,” that by its very existence disavowed the sort of network factory-line sausage “The Great Indoors” so clearly is.
Not that “Community” or McHale’s Jeff Winger ever made fun of the sausage. They simply refused to acknowledge a world in which shows like this exist. “Community” was the anti-network show. “The Great Indoors” is the anti-anti-network show. We’ll just have to sort out all these “antis” later and deal with it (or him.)
McHale’s challenge would be the same for any actor too good at his previous job, or in his case, jobs — which included hosting “The Soup” for well over a decade on E!. In those, he was the smartest guy in the room, as well as the most embittered, raging, cutting, cynical and funny. Pop culture was his target, or victim.
Now, the alternate universe: As Jack, he’s the not-quite-fogey technophobe who dismisses his social-media-besotted millennial staff as “digital day care,” then (in full fogey) wonders: “What is it with these kids?”
Meanwhile, “The Great Indoors” has also cast a genuine legend in Stephen Fry. At least most U.S. viewers unfamiliar with his work on “Blackadder” (and much else) won’t realize how badly he’s been miscast.
“The Great Indoors” is based on a not-necessarily inaccurate or unfunny idea: That modern-day journalism has so fully conceded the job of reporting to social media influencers that even a magazine devoted to the outdoors never has to venture outdoors. In the pilot, some of the lines even find their mark — assuming the intended mark are sites like BuzzFeed, Digg, Cracked, Reddit, Upworthy and so on. But the millennial jokes quickly grow stale, along with their “what is it with these kids” setups. Next week, Jack learns all about dating apps. Of this episode and these lines, a Winger zinger seems about right: “I can’t think of a better use of my time . . . than being unconscious.”
BOTTOM LINE Joel McHale as a journalist named Jack who makes fun of millennials and their social media habits: What’s wrong with this picture, besides everything?