‘Indebted’ in mediocracy
It’s unfair to compare NBC’s new comedy “Indebted” to the recently departed “The Good Place” just because they’re both NBC comedies that air on Thursdays. These shows have little in common — nowhere are their differences more evident than in the execution of their respective premises. “The Good Place” took one of the most complex sitcom premises on network television and accomplished it with ease. On the other end of the sitcom spectrum, “Indebted” takes one of the most basic premises and struggles to give its audience a reason to care.
Dave (Adam Pally, “The Mandalorian”) and Rebecca (Abby Elliott, “How I Met Your Mother”) are excited to “get their closets back.” They are finally moving out of the toddler phase of parenting, and starting to reclaim their adult lives. Then Dave’s parents show up with unnecessarily complicated stories about how they are in debt because they love vacations and have no health insurance. Also, Dave has a sister (Jessy Hodges, “Barry”) who is nothing more than a pile of lesbian stereotypes with no characterization. “Indebted” is constructed around a simple narrative — a relatively young couple has to deal with the man’s socially unaware and clingy parents. The whole episode should’ve raised the eyebrows of parents everywhere.
Filming in front of a live-studio audience makes multi-camera television different than single-camera, as the actors must be more performative. The parents, played by Steven Weber (“13 Reasons Why”) and Fran Drescher (“The Nanny”), seem much more comfortable than Pally and Elliot. But that doesn’t excuse what feels like relatively cheap dialogue. As misunderstood as technology is by grandparents, dialogue like “the tweeter” and “airBLT” ha the sole purpose of getting uninspired canned laughter from Drescher’s character. The loudest laughs are reserved for anytime one of the parents makes a simple statement about sex, which the writers must assume is inherently funny simply because the characters are old.
It remains uncertain if the show will ever recognize the potential that “Indebted” has to contribute to the discourse about cost of healthcare in the United States and the different parenting styles between Millennials and Boomers. I couldn’t tell you how Dave’s parents moving in will affect their lives, why his parents have no concept of savings or what any of the characters do for a living. Simply put, the table-setting is just horrible.
I am hoping that the lack of character-based humor in favor of repetitive gags could just be a symptom of it being the pilot. For the show to succeed, it must spend more time on building the histories of the characters, which the pilot spent zero time on. Based on this first episode, Dave seems to be relatively unaffected by the carefree lifestyle of his parents. The most successful version of this show would focus on how the parents spent their way into massive debt and how their efforts to spoil Dave and his sister impacted each of them respectively. Unfortunately, after one episode, NBC gives us no reason to care.