It is a TV truth universally acknowledged, that a broadcast sitcom landscape in possession of at least one primetime comedy block must be in want of a flagship hangout comedy.
Or at least, this was the case for the three-plus decades spanning the gap between the year Cheers first opened its bar doors on NBC (1982) to the year New Girl took its final bow on FOX (2018). Since then, though? Hangout comedy crickets.
Seriously, just look at the spread of comedies that premiered between 2018 and 2021. Apart from NBC’s short-lived Abby’s—a Mike Schur joint that starred Natalie Morales, Nelson Franklin, Kimia Behpoornia, Jessica Chaffin, Leonard Ouzts and Neil Flynn and was angling to be a backyard-set spin on the Cheers format—everything else was pretty much a workplace comedy (think Mythic Quest, Ted Lasso, Abbott Elementary), a multigenerational family comedy (Diary of a Future President, Family Reunion, The Other Two), an adult animated comedy (Tuca & Bertie, Central Park, Solar Opposites), or something adjacent to a hangout comedy, but a bit too high-concept and/or goal-oriented to feel like a true cousin to the likes of Girlfriends, Happy Endings, and New Girl—here, think Dollface, grown-ish, and What We Do in the Shadows.
But then in late 2021, NBC dropped a “sneak preview” of Grand Crew, a sunny hangout comedy of the most classic variety co-created by Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s Phil Augusta Jackson and Dan Goor, and everything changed.
One part Cheers, one part Living Single, one part Friends, the Los Angeles-set Grand Crew—which premiered in its permanent Tuesday night primetime slot right after the New Year—stars Nicole Byer, Echo Kellum, Justin Cunningham, Aaron Jennings, Carl Tart, Grasie Mercedes, and Maya Lynne Robinson as a group of thirty-something friends at various levels of professional, personal, and romantic fulfillment who catch up and wind down at an approachably bougie Eastside wine bar. (Grand Crew being, of course, a play on grand cru, which, as the series explains in the first season’s penultimate episode, is a wine-world term for a bottle of particularly high quality.)
From the textbook set-up to the titular crew to the joke-a-minute dialogue, Grand Crew hits every hangout sitcom sweet spot a fan of funny TV friendships could want. Chill spot for the crew to post up? Grand Crew’s got it. Killer (if annoyingly catchy) theme song? Grand Crew’s got it. Slow-burning, will-they-or-won’t-they romance? Grand Crew, obviously, has got that, too. (Even if my lips are sealed as to which two members of the crew this ends up being!)
And as for personalities unique enough (and relationships complicated enough) that no two episodes risk running into comedic redundancy? Man, has Grand Crew got that in spades.
In fact, between the seven main cast members—six who hang out on the regular, plus one (Robinson) who dips in and out depending on how much free time she’s got from her high-powered lawyer gig—Grand Crew’s got all possible hangout sitcom archetypes covered: Nicky (Byer) is the crew’s funny, sex-positive single lady; Noah (Kellum), Nicky’s brother, is their terminally monogamous hopeless romantic; Anthony (Jennings) is their hyper-professional young corporate type (not to mention their resident vegan); Sherm (Tart), Anthony’s roommate, is their opinionated schemer; Wyatt (Cunningham) is their soft-but-competitive Wife Guy; Kirsten (Robinson, aka, the Wife of the Wife Guy) is their bemused-but-competitive voice of external reason; and Fay (Mercedes), a recent transplant to LA, is the group’s quirky newbie—i.e., the wild card figure that sparks new energy in every corner of the crew’s lived-in friendship.
(Yes—they do call out their final toast with a hearty “Cheers, friends!” Nothing if not on the hangout sitcom brand.)
That all of the characters in Grand Crew are all Black is a key element to both their friendship and the way they experience Los Angeles—and, critically, is the very specific framing device of Episode 7, “Wine & Headlines”—but it’s not the reason the show exists. Or, rather, in some ways it’s exactly the reason it exists—but mostly insofar as it’s been a hot minute since an all-Black cast got to just be goofy friends on a network sitcom. And these weirdos? That’s pretty much just what they are: a bunch of goofy friends on a tightly composed network sitcom. Drinking, you know, a whole lot of wine. Which, as is pointed out at the end of the pilot, shouldn’t stand out as a cultural contradiction: LeBron (alongside a dozen other NBA stars) is into wine these days. Or in Sherm’s words, “Wine is Black now!”
On this point, Grand Crew does actually dig deeper than one might expect the average broadcast sitcom to, going out of their way not just to ensure that the proper wine lingo and etiquette is observed (like, say, not shining a set light directly through a bottle and thus ruining the wine within), but that Black-owned wine brands like Darjean Jones Wines and Theopolis Vineyards are given big shout-outs. The penultimate episode of Season 1, in fact, even sends the crew up the coast to the (fictional) Black-owned Sunset Rose Vineyards for an all-expenses paid VIP weekend, an experience throughout which the value of seeing wine not just enjoyed but created by Black friends and family is underscored repeatedly, without ever needing to be called out by name.
Still, while it’s part of the show’s DNA to raise up diverse (and deeply, deeply funny) Black voices and allow them to frame everyday, sitcom-y issues in a specifically Black, exquisitely sharp way, so, too, is using the crew’s friendship as a way to just plain goof on things like crypto, rom-coms, and sibling rivalry.
In short: Grand Crew is the hangout sitcom you didn’t even know you’ve been missing. What’s more, while the first season only clocked in at a brief ten episodes, it has officially been renewed for Season 2, which is set to premiere sometime late this year. Meaning, now’s the perfect time for you to catch up!
That said, if you do decide to spend the hottest weeks of summer Hulu-and-chilling with Grand Crew (and, presumably, a glass of your favorite chilled rosé), I have some advice: start with Episode 2 (“Wine & Serendipity”). Not just because it drops a solid joke for fans of women’s basketball less than three minutes in (though it does), nor even because one of its two main storylines hinges on the masterpiece that is Paddington 2 (though it does that, too). Rather, start with the second episode because that’s where the show truly becomes itself.
This isn’t to say that the pilot isn’t any good. I mean, it’s fine! But between the fact that it frames the episode with an awkwardly heavy-handed narratorial device (featuring sitcom legend Garrett Morris) that makes it feel like you’re watching a Discovery Channel documentary about the emotional lives of Black men, and includes both a character and a hangout spot that are very intentionally discarded in order to make room for the introduction of both the wine bar and Mercedes’ Fay in Episode 2, there’s greater value, I think, in leaving it until after you’ve watched the other nine episodes than in starting with it. At that point, catching its various callouts to hangout sitcom history—Sherm’s hat and a slap war being two particular highlights—will be a fun game, as will being reminded of what the pre-Fay, pre-wine versions of your new favorite sitcom friends were like.
Ultimately, though, however you choose to catch up on (to quote a character’s date in Episode 3) “the most blatant display of tomfoolery among friends” that’s Grand Crew’s bread and butter, I know already that you’ll be glad you did.
The first season of Grand Crew is streaming now on Peacock, Hulu, FuboTV, Sling, and NBC.com
Alexis Gunderson is a TV critic and audiobibliophile. She can be found @AlexisKG.
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