Sly like a Fox, stupid like a Fox sitcom

Two spring TV series need to smarten up their college play

by Keri Carlson

College has the reputation of being a phase.

We go to school, learn some trade and party hard. And then comes the time when we outgrow the shenanigans and graduate. The security blanket of higher education is ripped from our bodies and we are left shivering in the cold known as the real world.

“Free Ride” and “The Loop,” two additions to the Fox television schedule this spring, both center around two recently graduated white men and their transitions into reality.

The essential difference between the two shows is that the main characters follow different career paths. “Free Ride” leading man Nate (Josh Dean) returns home to Missouri with no plan or ambition to find a real job. “The Loop” follows Sam (Bret Harrison), who has jumped into an executive position at an airline company.

Besides that, “Free Ride” and “The Loop” might as well be the same show. Nate and Sam are both dorky, funny, cute-but-not-hot characters who never can summon the courage to ask their crush out on a date. (Think “The OC’s” Seth Cohen.) And they struggle with the idea of adulthood. Nate and Sam also have the same friend: the fratty, “Animal House” nonstop partier who causes all the conflicts for the main characters.

“Free Ride” and “The Loop” do take the risk of adopting a new style of comedy television. Similar to NBC’s “Scrubs,” the shows ditch the laugh track and confinements of a small set, which allows more elaborate scenes than traditional sketch comedies.

Unfortunately, “Free Ride” and “The Loop” retain the same traditional one-dimensional characters of any typical comedy. Television has always been based on dynamic characters built for cheap laughs, such as Lucy, Kramer or Fez; yet even these characters created distinct personalities. Nate and Sam only mimic the stereotypes of 1980s teen flicks and thus are trite and unfunny.

The simple humor of these shows relies too much on drinking and Nate and Sam’s desire for the good ol’ days of dorm party life. It seems as though the comedy has to be regulated to this lowbrow humor because the shows are concerned with Nate and Sam’s likeability. Too much effort is placed on getting the viewers to believe Nate and Sam deserve their dream girls ‘ and this makes the shows miss out on the inherent humor of the woe-is-me attitude of these middle-class, college-educated white dudes.

Really, their situations are not dire, but instead of playing up their pathetic qualities and taking the risk of allowing Nate and Sam to be seen as shallow and whiny, they are relegated to bland male leads that are half-geek and half-heartthrob ‘ a character that has been done 1,000 times.

The shows attempt some edgy humor but don’t go about it the right way: “Free Ride” includes parents who are too open about their sex life, and “The Loop” features a grouchy, homophobic boss and a hyper-sexual older woman in the workplace. But these tricks turn out insulting rather than humorous.

Fox has tapped into a trend of twentysomethings’ fear of entering the real world. Well, if the real world really is this unfunny, we should be afraid. Stay in school.