Hidden Remote continues to revisit NewsRadio in a look at episode two, “Inappropriate,” which serves as something like part two of the show’s pilot episode.
We’re pretty forgiving of pilots. Rightfully so. They have some heavy lifting to do. We expect them to entertain in the same way another other episode would while introducing an entire world to us.
A new show gets a little buffer room to overdraw the characters in order to show us very definitively who they are, what this place is, what kind of situation we are going to be dropped into like Danny Glover and an elephant. “Pilot” (which we discussed last week) was a good first effort, introducing us to WNYX and the crew.
But the unseen failing of “Pilot” may have been that it wasn’t quite through introducing us to the show, even if we are able to forgive that the show hadn’t quite found itself yet. “Inappropriate” gives us more of the essentials than “Pilot,” but is more uneven. It’s maybe easier to think of “Inappropriate” as “Pilot part II.”
Importantly in “Inappropriate,” the show establishes the budding, soon to be ongoing, relationship between Dave (Dave Foley) and Lisa (Maura Tierney), which forms the dramatic heart of the show. We also get Catherine (Khandi Alexander) for the first time, as she’s only referred to in “Pilot,” but never seen.
One of the more notable parts of “Inappropriate,” retrospectively, is that where “Pilot” had a set-up that overcame being a workplace comedy in a space that feels dated, “Inappropriate” is bogged down by it.
From the start, we get a shot inside the booth, a space that’s largely used as little more than another space to interact, the dominion/office of Bill (Phil Hartman) and Catherine, for the rest of the series. Matthew (Andy Dick) gives the news and we discover through a slow reveal that he’s done a “where are they now” segment on Joey Buttafuoco, whose name he mispronounces exactly how you’d assume he does, and Amy Fisher.
Not only does a Joey Buttafuoco reference feel dated, the notion of delivering a joke like that feels dated in a news cycle that has accelerated. We no longer linger on a news item like Buttafuoco or the Bobbitts. Things “go viral,” they blip onto our radar and disappear with abandon. If you were on vacation that day, you might not even know a story like Buttafuoco’s even happened.
NewsRadio leans into the radio-ness of the workplace more in this episode than they really do ever again, with very few exceptions. The minutia of radio is on display. You see it early when Bill throws a birthday party for Catherine during a short break when no one in the office is unavailable. The window is tight because the team needs to get back on the air soon. As Dave and Lisa come out of Dave’s office Bill says, “35 seconds to party time.”
This concern about the minutia of radio fades in the series, which ultimately works in its favor.
They also drop a lot of the background extras. The frames in “Inappropriate” and “Pilot” feel busy. There are a lot of people necessary to making a radio station run, by Season 2 there are very few people required to making a sitcom radio station run. It’s something that becomes a joke later, how few people seem to be wandering around. In Season 3 an employee quits and no one knows who he is. Or later, when Bill is lost to a radio station in Atlanta in a game of poker, he tells off a co-worker now that he’s leaving only to discover the guy he’s yelling at doesn’t even work at WNYX.
The episode also starts to set up a few storylines that thankfully fade quickly. Particularly, the romantic relationship between Bill and Catherine is given a mercy kill immediately after this episode. They continue an antagonistic relationship, but the overt romantic efforts of Bill and references to a secret office romance in the past evaporate.
In addition, the characters are a little muted in “Inappropriate.” The station owner, Jimmy James (Stephen Root), pretends to actually be a boss, and Andy Dick doesn’t take an absurd fall, which becomes a hallmark of their cold opens.
Maybe that all sounds bad. But it’s not bad. There’s an effort immediately to make the show about “something,” to some extent. The characters grapple with their decisions, suffer consequences, appear to exist in a real world despite the absurdity of the comedy. That’s something that, while it may not function perfectly in “Inappropriate,” is what made NewsRadio successful. It feels like a workplace in ways that a show like The Office never really does.
It’s “Pilot” lite, but “Inappropriate” does the heavy lifting that isn’t done in “Pilot,” which will lay the groundwork for the next two seasons of NewsRadio.