Created by Steven Levitan
Hulu/ Star on Disney +
Episodes : 8
Original Air Dates: September 20th 2022 – October 25th 2022
There’s always something enjoyable about the ‘inside baseball’ approach of a television series centred on the making of television. Of course, not every series that deals with his subject matter is one hundred per cent a success; Aaron Sorkin’s Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip was all over the place (great first half, admittedly), while Tina Fey and Robert Carlock’s 30 Rock (which premiered at the same time and on the same network no less) was a much more chaotic and fun concoction, making fun of both television and showing a clear love for it at the same time, while also ferociously mocking the corporate mindset of television studios.
Even Seinfeld took a dip into the waters of television writing, with its titular character and George Costanza pitching and writing a show about nothing, effectively turning their lives into the very show that the audience was watching at home, a brilliant self mockery/meta approach to the series that saw it hit dazzlingly funny heights.
Going back in time to the classic era of the medium reveals that television has always had a knack for wanting to explore its own creative process. The Dick Van Dyke Show explored the making of a sitcom within its own sitcom, detailing both the chaotic workings of the series and Rob Petrie’s own home life to classic effect and his marriage to Laurie, itself feeling like both a satirical exploration of what it took to make a television series with the old standby of having a marriage at the centre of it.
Even the big screen has occasionally found its way to exploring the work that goes into producing material for its small screen cousin; Broadcast News, Late Night, Soapdish and Morning Glory, might have been more centred on the non-fictional worlds of news shows (both morning and night) late night talk shows and soap operas, but there was something entertaining to be had in watching television crews bring work to the screen for a waiting audience at home coupled with the dramas that go on behind the scenes.
Into this sub-genre comes Steven Levitan’s Reboot (not to be confused with the 90s CGI animated series of the same name), which on the surface has more in common with The Dick Van Dyke Show in detailing the work that goes into the making of a sitcom alongside the complex lives of its lead characters with a heavy dose of silliness, but it’s also dealing with a much different world than the production line of television in the late 50s and early 60s.
Right away the audience is planted into the world of the corporate offices of Hulu where Hannah Korman (Rachel Bloom, making a welcome return to our screens) pitches an idea to reboot Step Right Up, a popular 90s sitcom clearly inspired by the likes of Full House, but which aims to do so with a more edgier emotional undercurrent and a game changing twist ending to her first episode for the revival series.
Of course, things never run smoothly, not when egotistical actors and actresses are involved, previously departed show runners return and older writers and new writers clash along generational lines, not to mention that the game changing twist to the revival’s first episode that Hannah has concocted has its basis in real life.
Reboot is not going to reinvent the wheel here, and its satirical moments are very much what you would expect. If you go into the series expecting to see something with the satirical bite of The Larry Sanders Show or the constant genre subversions of 30 Rock and its frequent takedowns of corporate America and its hold on the television industry, then you’re not going to get it here. What you will get is something frequently entertaining, very funny and with some nicely played observations of the nature of television producing in the 2020’s.
This isn’t going to shake the boat in terms of its approach to these things, but Levitan (with a background in having wrote and co-created Modern Family) is clearly enjoying letting loose with a more foul mouthed sensibility and low-key destroying the approach that comes with creating a series that, in a modern variation, he himself previously worked on. Like with 30 Rock which actually took place within NBC and Universal Pictures, Hulu is constantly mentioned and its logo is dotted throughout, blaring the lines between reality and fiction in a lovely manner, while the series does a great job in establishing its central relationships between its cast of characters in such a way that one gets the sense that there was a whole other life for them before we meet them here.
If there is any disappointment to be had here it’s that with this being Bloom’s return to television following the masterpiece that was Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, she is only involved in an acting capacity and not in the writing and direction. Her ability to subvert tropes, cliches and expectations that come from genre made that series one of the all-time modern greats and you can’t help but think what Reboot might have been like if she had been involved in crafting the wordplay, character interactions and themes here.
That’s not to say that this it isn’t effective because it is. Observations of differing generations of comedy writing is both potent and even sentimental as common ground is met, and the cast is frequently on top form. When that cast involves Keegan-Michael Key, Judy Greer, Paul Reiser, Calum Worthy and Johnny Knoxville, of course you expect great comedy. At eight episodes at a little under a half hour, Reboot is a lot of fun and a very easy binge, especially for anyone who loves to see how the sausage is made, and is finale sets the scene for an even more intriguing second season.