Fox’s comedy slate has had a rough 2017 so far. Adam Pally’s time-travel sitcom Making History was canceled before the last of its eight episodes aired; fellow freshman Son of Zorn suffered the same fate after viewers failed to warm to its gimmicky hybrid of live-action and animation; even the previously bankable Last Man on Earth, Brooklyn Nine-Nine and soon-to-be defunct New Girl suffered ratings lows.
However, there was one shining light in the shape of the network’s Kaitlin Olson vehicle, The Mick, which over the course of 17 no-holds-barred episodes breathed new life into the dysfunctional family comedy. Ahead of its Season Two premiere, here’s a look at why the show deserves your attention.
Unconventional parenting is nothing new in sitcom land (see everything from the three-dad set-up of saccharine-fest Full House to the relatively pioneering Carol and Susan on Friends). But The Mick’s angle—neglectful wealthy mom and dad flee the country after being arrested for tax evasion by the FBI, hard-living black sheep of the family gets saddled with looking after their three troublesome kids—is far more subversive than your average fish-out-of-water comedy. Don’t expect many tales of redemption and heart-warming group hugs from The Mick, which refreshingly revels in crude slapstick, acidic putdowns and a general sense of disorganized chaos.
There was initial skepticism from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia fans when Olson was announced as the star of a primetime network sitcom. Could an actress best known for playing a foul-mouthed, fame-hungry narcissist on TV’s most nihilistic comedy really make the transition without watering down her persona? Well, “Mickey” might not drop as many F-bombs as Sweet Dee, but with her fondness for copious amounts of alcohol, tendency toward physical violence and general lack of morals, the two characters are pretty much cut from the same cloth. Olson sells the hell out of her first leading lady role, too, instilling Mickey with a natural charm that, despite her often appalling behavior, makes her impossible to root against.
There’s always a danger when casting a cutesy child that your show will essentially become a glorified Kids Say the Darndest Things. But Ben, the youngest member of the brood, is no ordinary sitcom kid. Sure, he’s got all the usual traits—winning smile, expressive eyes, scene-stealing quips. But perhaps unsurprisingly, given his neglectful upbringing, he’s also a serial rabbit-killer, horror-movie obsessive and practicing arsonist whose unhealthy interest in fire eventually results in his family home burning down. And the eight-year-old who plays him, Jack Stanton, is a star in the making, imbuing his character’s mix of wide-eyed innocence and borderline sociopathy with a naturalism far removed from your usual stage schoolers. In fact, in many of the first season’s episodes, he’s the finest comedic actor in the entire cast.
The two older kids are more spoiled, ungrateful and generally terrible, but remain compelling characters to watch. Thomas Barbusca already proved he could play the obnoxious jerk to perfection in the Wet Hot American Summer revival, and he does so again here, albeit with a little more humanity, as the ever-yelping middle child, Chip. Known for her more dramatic work in the likes of Skins, Gossip Girl and The Messengers, Sofia Black-D’Elia perhaps has the most difficult role—the stroppy wild child. But amid the constant eye-rolling and snarky remarks, her character, Sabrina, still provides plenty of laughs, most notably when she’s sparring with her arch nemesis aunt. Although there are times when the pair appear to acknowledge they may share the same recklessness gene, their love/hate relationship largely veers toward hate, and the show is all the funnier for it.
Initially, the family’s unappreciated Hispanic housekeeper Alba Maldonado looked set to be the straight woman to Mickey’s straight-up trainwreck. But free from the shackles of having to wait on such a ghastly couple hand and foot, the character has become a force of nature in her own right. In fact, Alba often makes Mickey seem like an upstanding member of society, whether it’s smashing a glass over a policeman’s head or denying a wheezing ‘Benito’ his inhaler until he snitches. Carla Jimenez’s committed performance also helps turn what could have been a one-dimensional stereotype into a hilarious, multi-faceted creation.
Mickey’s on/off boyfriend, Jimmy, is the one reminder of her rowdy party-girl past. And although the gate-crashing manchild initially proves to be something of an irritant—both to the family and the audience at home—the character eventually reveals himself to be a valuable asset. Throwing himself into the role, Scott MacArthur is responsible for most of the show’s great physical gags, whether it’s being run over by a horse at Ben’s disturbing birthday party, carrying out some wince-inducing DIY dental work, or getting tasered by police after overestimating his bargaining abilities. But despite being a constant and hilarious source of contempt for Alba, Mickey and pretty much everyone apart from Ben, his budding relationship with the latter suggests that hidden, very hidden, behind his schlubby persona, there’s also a more caring, responsible father figure waiting to get out.
The Mick certainly isn’t afraid to go where other family sitcoms wouldn’t dare. You couldn’t see Modern Family featuring a storyline in which a seven-year-old is believed to have swallowed a heroin-filled balloon belonging to a junkie clown. Or the Kevin Can Wait clan pretending their youngest child is transgender so that he can get into a conveniently closer all-girls school. Or Man with a Plan actually killing off the hunky boyfriend character in a sauna-related mishap and then never mentioning him again. It’s rare for such a show to bring something new to the table, but The Mick delivers at least one “I can’t believe they got away with that” moment each episode.
The majority of The Mick takes places in the kind of mansion so extravagant it makes the homes of Gossip Girl and Revenge look like mud shacks. But the show is still firmly on the side of the 99%. Creators Dave and John Chernin don’t waste any opportunity to mock the ridiculousness and vapidity of the Connecticut elite. The parents in exile are painted as neglectful, selfish and uncaring crooks who have no qualms about leaving their kids with a practical degenerate. Certain traditions of privileged country clubs and prep schools are mocked for their ridiculousness, while the toxic varsity bro culture is brilliantly lampooned in a storyline involving sexting and Chip’s lacrosse team.
Whether it’s cartoonish physical humor (both Mickey and Jimmy get run over early on without suffering a scratch), witty—if slightly outdated—pop culture references (with Mickey’s shout-out to shark-infested B-movie Deep Blue Sea during her perplexing prep school speech a particular highlight) or pithy one-liners (“You were a topless waitress. And that’s even worse, it just means you couldn’t dance”) that tickle your funny bone, The Mick pretty much delivers on all fronts. If the show can continue to maintain the high standard of its first season, then Olson’s passion project will remain one of the funniest shows not only on the Fox network, but on all network TV.
Sure, The Mick’s prime objective is to make you laugh, with no joke too lowbrow or entertainingly stupid. But buried deep down it also has a heart. Mickey’s connection with her two oldest surrogate offspring gradually begins to evolve from downright hostility to something approaching mild tolerance, and there are even occasional flickers of mutual respect. Chip’s initial inability to deal with his parents absconding also provides the odd touching moment, and the finale’s revelation that he’s not actually his father’s biological son suggests he may become the second season’s emotional crux, too. It can even get socially conscious—witness Mickey’s passionate argument for birth control in “The Buffer,” while cyberbullying, addiction and body issues are all explored without ever descending into typical sitcom preachiness.
Season Two of The Mick premieres tonight at 9 p.m. on FOX.