The Crazy Ones—CBS' new comedy premiering tonight—perhaps has some potential, if only it would make its star just a little less crazy. That star, of course, is Robin Williams, in his first series regular role since Mork & Mindy.
Williams plays kooky (well, duh) Simon Roberts who runs an ad agency with his daughter Sydney, played by Sarah Michelle Gellar. The pilot follows the two of them as they try to recruit Kelly Clarkson to perform a jingle for McDonalds when the fast food company threatens to fire them.
The Crazy Ones has a lot going for it, but some of that gets buried under the manic-ness of Williams' performance. The theory behind directing him seemed to be: let him do whatever he wants. That means we get a lot of sound effects, funny voices, and, in what is supposed to be one of the show's more poignant moments, an extended impression of a Native American. We all know that Williams, beyond being (at times) a funny comedian, is also a talented actor, who knows how to employ restraint. Restraint won him his Oscar for Good Will Hunting.
But think about all the instances where his worse qualities are allowed to run amok. Need we remind you of Patch Adams, Night at the Museum, or every single talk show appearance he's ever made (with special attention paid to his nearly unwatchable spin around the set of Inside the Actor's Studio). Williams is excellent when he has a good director, but TV is not a director's medium. It is left to the writers to call the shots and since The Crazy Ones is in the hands of David E. Kelley, who never met a tic, quirk, or iota of wackiness he didn't fully embrace, the audience is in for a long season.
Allowed to let his manic qualities run wild on The Crazy Ones, Williams ends up not only embarrassing himself, but hurting the performances of the rest of the supporting cast. Gellar seems like she's just trying to keep up, Hamish Linklater's understated quips get buried, and James Wolk—so carefully creepy on Mad Men—goes over the top to match Williams' nuttiness. See, for instance, the multiple instances in the pilot when he and Williams come up with an improptu "sexy" song about McDonald's for Clarkson, who wants to change her image. Oh yeah, even though McDonald's apparently didn't pay to be in the pilot, the whole show comes off like one big piece of product placement.
There is hope for The Crazy Ones yet, someone just needs to tell Williams to tone it down.