CBS All-Access premiered a new TV series, “No Activity,” on Nov. 12 in the never-ending fight for relevance. “No Activity” is an American adaptation of an Australian cop comedy, centered around the police force working to bust a major drug cartel, and the criminals that abet the misconduct. The show is carried out in pairs: two detectives on stake out, two dispatch workers, two criminals waiting out in a shipping container and two Mexican tunnelers. This paired set-up allows for easy-flowing humor, developed on the innate, humorous nature of opposites forced to interact.
Produced by Will Ferrell (“Saturday Night Live”), Adam McKay (“Anchorman”) and Funny or Die, and featuring an all-star comedic cast, “No Activity” seemed destined to be a slam dunk. However, the shows title concisely states the show’s biggest flaw: there is no activity. I should preface this by saying I have not seen the Australian original; still, that does not forgive the fact that in the pilot episode, there is no plot movement of notable mention until the last three minutes. Prior to that final twist, the entire show consists solely of expositional conversation.
Another glaring error is the absence of the top-billed star. When you search the show on Google, the first link to come up says, “‘No Activity’ with Will Ferrell,” yet 30 minutes of my life later, I was left with a complete and utter lack of Ferrell; the man did not appear in the pilot episode. For a show seemingly building itself off the star power of the actor and producer, it is a bold move to leave him out of the first episode — which is a show’s best means of pleaing its case for return viewers.
While the writing of the show is high quality and delivers the trademark humor you’d expect from Ferrell, it suffers from a lack of action to build comedy from, and relies wholly on the dynamics between the paired characters. Each scene is shot in a play-like fashion; the two characters sit in the same position, with an essentially fixed camera perspective, leaving the viewer hungry for movement. This lack of literal and metaphorical movement in these one-on-one moments stunts their humor because the jokes that start off strong fizzle out by the time the camera pans back to another coupling.
The show’s trailer suggests that there is more quality content soon to come, but a pilot episode should always give viewers a good depiction of what’s in store, and some tension in the plot to ensure they return — this was not delivered. That being said, the comedically stacked cast gives the show its fighting chance. With no plot motion to keep viewers engaged, the flow between characters needs to be spot on — and it is. Amy Sedaris (“BoJack Horseman”) delivers her usual zany madness as the veteran dispatch worker training an unsuspecting newcomer, and Tim Meadows (“Mean Girls”) shines in the role of one half of a police partner duo, basked in the undertones of a nagging wife, due to 11 years of service together.
There is the possibility that leaving Ferrell out was a deliberate act to bring people back for episode two, and if that was the case, they’ve at least hooked me. I’m left wondering if the addition of Ferrell’s character will be enough to pick up the pace on this show a bit. Plus, despite the lack of plot, the quality of the writing and acting presented a compelling enough case to give this show a second chance, and perhaps give Ferrell a chance to save it.