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Amazon’s ‘Vials’ is a Comedy Worth Watching
November 24, 2017  | By David Hinckley

Amazon’s new Vials is low-tech TV that delivers high quality.

A half-hour comedy that looks like it was shot by a group of funny pals with an iPhone, Vials was supposed to debut on the streaming service Amazon Direct on Thanksgiving Day.

Late in the day it didn’t seem to have gotten there yet, but it should, and it’s worth the wait.  

Vials is a sitcom, more or less, set in a pharmacy. It’s not completely unlike The Office, Superstore or a fistful of other workplace comedies, yet it has a tone of its own with a solid grasp of the fact that comedies need entertaining characters and a few actual ideas more than they need jokes and punchlines.

The show revolves around the subtly named Gateway Drug and Surgical, an independent pharmacy run by Rich (David Lampe, left), who has some pharmaceutical challenges of his own.

Specifically, he seems to take a lot of Xanax, which becomes the name of the first Vials episode. He seems to be gulping it down at a higher rate now that one of his pharmacy techs, Joe (Ethan Stites), is dating his daughter Lisa (Alexandria Ayala).

Joe also serves as an occasional narrator, and he makes it clear from the start that he is not one of those people who will be counting out cholesterol medication when he’s 50. Like Rich.

No, Joe has been quietly going to law school, and he’s about to quit the pharmacy to take a legal gig.

Do not assume that means he will leave the pharmacy game behind, even beyond his fondness for Lisa.

The pharmacy family also includes the young, sincere Doug (Sanjay Rao, below), and the competent, ambitious woman who is hired to replace Joe, Carmela (Elena Weinberg).

And no, none of these people seems to have last names for purposes other than maybe their Social Security cards.

That omission is consistent with the show’s strong strain of millennial-style humor. That includes jokes at the expense of millennials as well as a casual sort of banter like Joe telling millennial Doug, “Your whole generation needs a reboot.”

Gateway’s staff also faces a steady stream of crazed, oversharing customers desperate for their meds. It’s fair to say some of them do come across as caricatures.

At the same time, Vials also weaves in some actual information, like a short and fascinating tutorial on yes, Xanax.

How it works, what it’s supposed to do, why people take it, why people take too much of it.

The lesson is easy to swallow because it’s wrapped in humor. It then becomes the viewer’s option whether to accept the invitation to think a little more about our highly medicated society, perhaps.

Still, Vials isn’t selling itself as a tutorial. It’s selling characters, and by the end of the first episode, it has drawn a half dozen good ones. Some of them, including Rich, are works in progress, but we’ll give them the time as long as they keep being funny.

To paraphrase Reader’s Digest, a sentence almost no one ever wants to write, laughter remains the best medicine.

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