In a world of Frank Gallaghers and BoJack Horsemans, the trope of the alcoholic male lead has found sufficient footholds in recent years. On Oct. 17, the Audience Network, accessible only to DirecTV, AT&T U-verse and DirecTV Now customers, premiered the pilot of its new show “Loudermilk,” from co-creators Peter Farrelly (“Dumb and Dumber”) and Bobby Mort (“The Colbert Report”), ushering in another abrasive drunk protagonist to add to the list. “Loudermilk” stars Ron Livingston (“Office Space”) as Sam Loudermilk, a caustic recovering alcoholic and substance abuse counselor.
In the first few scenes, Sam tells one of his AA attendees that “life’s about fucking things up — and then unfucking the things you fucked up,” and the theme of this pilot episode seems to be Sam doing just that. Due to his acerbic attitude and behavior, the priest (Eric Keenleyside, “Godzilla”) of the church where Sam holds meetings informs him that his meeting space will be revoked if he does not help one of the church member’s in rehabilitating her stubborn, drug-abusing daughter Claire (Anja Savcic, “Extraterrestrial”).
While the boozehound character is not a new one, not often do we find him as the focal point of a TV show — probably due in part to the fact that the attributes of someone truly suffering from alcoholism don’t lend themselves well to making a loveable lead. “Loudermilk,” however, creates a compelling twist on the role of the classic drunk. It may not seem fair to categorize Sam in this trope, considering he is four years sober and leading sobriety meetings, but he has the biting, me-against-the-world attitude of someone just getting “off the sauce.”
The most defining points of Sam’s character build are dichotomous to the point of verging on unbelieveable. Sam is depicted as an extremely dedicated counselor — denoted more by his actions than his usually apathetic comments — but he also goes on to display an utter callousness toward his fellow man, exemplified by him pushing past an elderly man going up the stairs. I believe it is this same disconcerting, polarized quality about him that makes him a suitable lead — he’s constantly pushing you away and pulling you back in.
For many of the doubts I did have, the writers would close the gaps with the occasionally self-aware comment from Sam. He tells his budding love interest Allison (Laura Mennell, “Watchmen”) that he’s learned to be blunt and harsh to cut through the lies and excuses of the addicts he works with, which bleeds over into his personal life.
While so many of Sam’s traits are abrasive to the point of discomfort, I saw a lot of my darker, hidden qualities in him, which helped me relate much better to the show and feel justified in my own grating characteristics. When Sam’s roommate and “only friend” Ben (Will Sasso, “MADtv”) asks why he pushed past an old man on the stairs, Sam replies, “Maybe I just wanted to get nowhere faster,” and I’ll be damned if those words didn’t come out of my own mouth. These humanizing moments in the face of otherwise atrocious actions is what endears Sam to the few in his life strong enough to withstand his rough edges — and the same can be said for the viewers.
Where the show does falter, however, is in the strength of the dialogue. Often times it feels as though the writing is more of a vehicle for delivering social commentary and setting up overthought jokes than it is for carrying the plot along, or communicating relationships between characters. Don’t get me wrong, the show is definitely comedic in nature, but the humor wavers when it tries too hard. While the show does have its flaws and lulls, the pilot episode and the show’s namesake present a compelling case for viewers to tune in again next week.