Do Not Disturb -- An early look
by Jason Hughes, posted Sep 10th 2008 11:02AM
In the behind-the-scenes interviews the network sent along with the pilot, the entire cast and the creator described Do Not Disturb, premiering tonight at 9:30/8:30 Central, as an "upstairs-downstairs" workplace comedy. Creator Abraham Higginbotham (Arrested Development) based the show on his time at the Paramount Hotel in the '90s. "It's Freaks and Geeks in a hotel," he said. "You've got your upstairs crowd where you have to basically turn in a photo to be approved to work where you come into face contact with guests. And then downstairs, anybody can work there because they're the people doing all the real work."
Unfortunately, if this is going to be the major thrust of the series going forward, they picked a pretty poor episode to establish that for the pilot. "Work Sex" tackled sex and promiscuity, which are such powerful subjects in this country they tend to overwhelm everything. And since the show is trying to introduce its premise, characters, relationships and the dynamics of its ensemble at the same time, it may have been better to launch with a subject a little less dominating. In fact, I didn't really get the struggle between the two groups at all.
The show was built around Niecy Nash, known mostly for her improvised comedic brilliance on Reno 911!. The idea was to surround her character Rhonda, the HR head, with twenty-something kids at their first or second jobs, making those early life mistakes so that she can play the role of their flawed mother figure. Instead, in the pilot we got a battle of the sexes over ... sex. Sex in the workplace is nothing new for a workplace comedy, and Do Not Disturb didn't really take it anyplace new or groundbreaking either.
Her counterpart is Jerry O'Connell, (Sliders, Crossing Jordan) as the general manager, Neal. He's the king of the "upstairs" castle and comes complete with the arrogance and swagger to go with it. The pilot focused mostly on his womanizing nature, which makes his performance markedly similar to his role on Carpoolers. Here, however, he has some insecurities underneath his macho facade, indicating there may be a chance at some real character development in this series.
Molly Stanton is best known for her role as Charity Standish on the soap opera Passions. Here she plays an "upstairs" worker and aspiring model. She said of this show "I've never seen anything like it, so I don't know what it's capable of ... It's un-PC and daring and edgy and dark ... I think it's got all the elements to make a great show." While I'll admit that there were some dark aspects to it, including the modeling gig that Nicole ultimately gets, but I'd hardly call anything I saw un-PC.
In fact, despite the subject matter being mostly about sex, it was an incredibly tame show for FOX. Of course, when I think un-PC anymore in comedy I'm thinking of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia which obliterates any lines of good taste and sensibilities. But Do Not Disturb (premiering Wednesday at 9:30 PM ET) didn't even dance dangerously close to any of them. So if this is what we get, I'd say I do know what this show is capable of. And it's pretty tame.
Other cast members include James Franco's brother, Dave, who plays a character that I couldn't really figure out from the episode they sent. He's cocky and arrogant in a way that even O'Connell's Neal isn't, and yet I couldn't really get a gauge of his motivations or what he wants. Jolene Purdy revealed that her character, Molly, is an aspiring singer though the pilot did not reveal this aspect of her. By the end, it did establish her character as one of the most well-rounded and down-to-earth on the show.
And maybe it's just me, but I was a little disappointed that they went the most obviously politically correct route in revealing the true subject of the sex article. I'm not saying that I didn't like the reveal, because I like what it added to that character, but rather that it was just too obvious. While I see the value in not following stereotypes, there's such a thing now as the politically correct stereotype and too much of modern television falls victim to it by trying to not offend anyone. And the first casualty of political correctness is "the funny."
Like Carpoolers, though, I found my first peek at Do Not Disturb to be nothing groundbreaking or spectacular, but entertaining nonetheless. Just from the pilot, the show is on that bubble where it could slide either way as we go forward. I'm rooting for it to find its legs and potential greatness. Higginbotham was joined by Arrested Development's Jason Bateman as director on the pilot, so the pedigree is in for true sitcom genius, even if it seems a long shot. After all, AD was firing on all cylinders from the pilot and this one just didn't have that magic.
The kindling is there for a great workplace comedy. The ensemble is solid and diverse enough that I already see the potential to achieve a Just Shoot Me! or Night Court level of quality right out of the gate. Now to aim for a Taxi, Cheers or Mary Tyler Moore, it's going to have to really raise its game. Otherwise, it'll be just another Welcome to the Captain.