Hulu’s Reboot Examines Why We Love Sitcoms
From the creator of Modern Family, Hulu comedy Reboot takes a look at sitcom and streaming cultures and wonders if they can co-exist.
This article contains spoilers for Reboot through episode 4.
What makes the classic multi-camera sitcom format so nostalgic for TV fans? Is it that the people depicted onscreen behave in a way we wish we did and experience lives we wish we had? Or is it because episodes are only about 22 minutes without commercials, and therefore don’t require a lot of thinking after a long day?
From Gilligan’s Island to Seinfeld, the classic sitcom has always found a way into our lives in some form or fashion. We all have our own personal favorites. I remember turning on Nick at Night daily at around 10 p.m. when I was in middle school and high school, eager for the calming, yet chaotic voice of George Lopez on his self-titled sitcom. For others, their favorite comedy might be Full House, a show every child since the 1980s has seemingly been forced to watch in some capacity. The show was also rebooted into Fuller House, bringing back some of the main actors from the original series to mixed reception. We already knew the classic sitcom wasn’t exactly brilliantly written or acted, so why was fanfare a big enough reason to get the gang back together?
And that is the perfect tipping point question for what Hulu’s Reboot is trying to dissect. The show brings back the cast of a fictional early aughts sitcom called “Step Right Up.” The show serves as a satire on several of our real-life favorites from the era. Everything from the live-studio audience laughing at jokes that aren’t all that funny, to the corny, but heartwarming title songs that accompanied nearly every family show 30 years ago. The entire meta-package is a semi-novel way for Steve Levitan (Modern Family) and his writers to reminisce about the types of shows they used to be apart of, while also poking fun at some of the lazy tropes and endearing two-dimensional problems the characters would experience every half-hour episode.
When Reboot is analyzing the television industry at large, that’s when it hits its sweet spot. When it tries to incorporate too many personal life storylines with its main characters, it often drags the comedy down a tad and makes the viewing experience feel a little more cluttered. Much of the first several episodes focuses on the romantic carnage left behind by the breakup of the main cast members who have been brought back for the “Step Right Up” reboot. Reed Sterling and Bree Marie Jensen (Keegan-Michael Key and Judy Greer) are in denial about the nature of their relationship all these years later, as they used to date when they were on the original show together.
I understand that the storyline is supposed to be a fun way to discuss the ways cast members of shows would get involved off-screen and the tension that would bring to set when they’re acting. At the same time, it gets away from the meat of Reboot, which is a great spoof of our childhood comedies. It’s not all that revelatory that celebrities get intimately involved after meeting on the job. This is something that happens at every workplace in America. And while Greer and Key have pretty good chemistry together (the scene where Reed has an erection while kissing Bree is a funny because actors always talk about how these types of scenes are simply professional and there’s nothing more to them), I’d much rather watch the conflict between the father/daughter writing team of Gordon and Hannah (Paul Reiser and Rachel Bloom).
This is where we really get to see the different dynamics in a sitcom writers room, especially how those dynamics have evolved in the past 20-30 years. Gordon brings in several of his old heads to help bring the show back to its roots, while Hannah hires some Gen Z counterparts to ensure the writing is relevant and modern. The tug of war between them helps to highlight the ways that both sides of the spectrum need to come together to create special comedy in 2022. Stuffing someone’s car full of popcorn or tripping over a garbage can is timeless slapstick comedy, but it must mesh with jokes that aren’t always misogynistic or focusing on gender roles and the nuclear family.
It’s fitting that Levitan worked on Modern Family because that show is kind of what the fictional one in Reboot aims to be. A full realization of the way the world has changed that brings classic sitcom tropes and genre-markers into the fold to create a complete viewing experience. Instead, this insightful commentary is often blocked out by repetitive love storylines and uninspiring “will-they, won’t they” flirting by all of the main cast members. Even Zack (Calum Worthy), the now-grown child from the cast, starts a relationship with one of the fictional Hulu executives, Elaine (Krista Marie Yu).
This choice is solid for folks who enjoy seeing the allure of coworkers wanting to get busy (Reed’s euphemism), but it leads to people like me being a little disappointed with the way we only get hints of classic sitcom culture discussions without going all the way. Granted, we’re still only four episodes in, so perhaps the percentage of time spent on each style of storytelling will change. For now, Reboot is a show with immense potential, but perhaps not one that will tangibly realize it.
The first four episodes of Reboot are available to stream on Hulu now. New episodes premiere each Tuesday.