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‘Great News’ is the Same Joke Over and Over Again. Maybe
April 25, 2017  | By David Hinckley
 

There are two ways to look at NBC’s new sitcom Great News, which premieres Tuesday with episodes at 9 and 9:30 p.m. ET.

The first is that it’s Groundhog Day, endlessly repeating slight variations on the same joke about an overbearing Mom and the plucky daughter who rolls her eyes and finds ways to live with it because, well, it’s Mom.

The second is that it captures a deep fundamental truth, wrapped in knowing comedy, that guys like me aren’t meant to get because there’s something about the mother/daughter bond we can never fully understand.

Great News, whose producers include Tina Fey, features Andrea Martin (top) as Carol Wendelson and Briga Heelan (top) as her daughter Katie.

Katie works as a producer for a fictional New York cable news network. After three years, she’s having trouble being taken seriously by her boss, executive producer Greg (Adam Campbell).

Greg, in turn, has his hands full trying to control his anchor team, old-school veteran Chuck Pierce (John Michael Higgins, right) and hip young Portia (Nicole Richie, right), who have very different ideas what viewers want in a newscast these days.  

They’re entertaining. Think Ted Knight meets TMZ. But they’re not what the show is about. That would be Carol and Katie.  

Carol and Katie talk on the phone when Katie wakes up, while Katie gets ready for work, while Katie walks to work and as soon as Katie gets to work. Yes, that’s right – all this before Katie’s day really begins.

It should be added that Martin and Heelan play these roles wonderfully. Within the first five minutes of the first episode, we understand that this is a show about a mother who wants to live in every corner of her daughter’s life, and has no clue how far she takes it over the top.  

By the end of the first episode, Carol has found a way to get even closer. She lands a job at Katie’s network as an intern.

Did we mention that Carol has no filters? No intimate detail of Katie’s life is now safe from being spilled in a casual conversation between Carol and Katie’s coworkers.

And that’s really all you need to know about Great News. It’s Katie trying to find her own life while not losing the most important person in it.

It’s a mother/daughter joke, often knowing and amusing, told over and over and over.

In some ways, Great News has gone into repeats by the end of the first episode.

The Carol-and-Katie drama is so central, in fact, that the handful of ancillary gags feel almost out of place. Carol’s husband, at least in the early going, is a pure cartoon. The first episode includes an extended weight joke, which may be designed to establish a character and the premise that “nothing here is sacred,” but still feels vaguely uncomfortable.

In any case, an overinvolved and sometimes tone-deaf Mom is hardly a new TV character. Exaggerating her into a sitcom persona can even be a way to make the point that in real life, maternal smothering sometimes isn’t good for either party.

But Great News isn’t a public service message. More often, as with some past Fey-related productions, it feels like a series of sketches stitched together into a show.

That technique isn’t done badly here, but it’s still a technique, and when the sketches start to feel like different routes to the same punchline, after a while it gets less interesting.

Unless.

Unless, perhaps, millions of mothers and daughters understand it on a level the rest of us never will.

 
 
 
 
 
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