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NBC's ‘Great News’ is Even Better News for Ageless Andrea Martin
April 25, 2017  | By Ed Bark
 

Many of the usual suspects are present and accounted for in this latest sitcom about a dysfunctional TV newsroom.

Namely:

***The aging, pompous news anchor who remains a legend in his own mind.

***An eye candy female co-anchor with the depth of a kiddie pool.

***A capable but frustrated woman staffer who’s had her fill of “fluff.”

***A brusque boss who thinks she’s fluff-worthy -- and little else.

***A spotlighted, off-camera goofball.

But here’s the big, pivotal difference with NBC’s Great News (Tuesday at 9 p.m. ET). It’s the first of its genre to feature a 60-year-old intern who’s also the mom of the aspiring lead character. And for a role that makes or breaks this show, creator/executive producer Tracey Wigfield and co-executive producer Tina Fey had the eminent good sense to cast the great Andrea Martin (top), who’s given more screen time than perhaps she’s ever had.

As Carol Wendelson, Martin is a distinctly hands-on mom, but no mommie dearest. She’s in constant but loving contact with her only daughter, Katie (fresh-faced Briga Heelan, top), a flustered producer for MMN cable’s The Breakdown. The two of them clash over mom’s incessant nurturing of her “Pumpkin,” but never to the point where it’s banshee versus ingrate.

Martin steals their scenes together in the early going, but Heelan increasingly holds her own over the course of Great News’s 10-episode first season. NBC didn’t hold back, making the entire output available for review. I didn’t plan to go the distance. But one episode led to another and another -- and eventually the whole thing. And by the end, I wanted more. Not because Great News is an instant classic. But because it managed to seem so effortlessly entertaining -- which of course takes considerable effort.

Episodes 3 (“Chuck Pierce is Blind”) and 7 (“The Red Door”) prove to be laugh-out-loud funny, with Martin and John Michael Higgins (left, as the blowhard anchor Chuck) clicking brilliantly together as babysitter and baby. Chuck turns out to need a mothering presence far more than Katie does.

The biggest news flash of Great News otherwise is the performance of Nicole Richie (left) as ditzy co-anchor Portia Scott-Griffith. “What’s a ‘Walter Conk-rite?’ “ she asks in Episode 2 after Chuck invokes both the name and his famed “And that’s the way it is” sign-off.

Perhaps too many years as Paris Hilton’s best pal have made Richie a natural as an airhead. But at least some acting is required, and Richie delivers, whether teasing a story on going “undercover as an ugly person” or noting that “my mentor, Roger Ailes” suggested that she show a lot more leg on-camera.

This Tuesday’s opening half-hour was in the can long before Ailes’ principal protegé, Bill O’Reilly, got bounced from Fox News Channel for likewise being an alleged serial sexual harasser. But Chuck is old enough to be O’Reilly, which makes it a little cringe-worthy when Carol asks during her first day on the job, “Is he hands-y with the girls? I don’t mind.” Carol otherwise is married to a nondescript guy named Dave. As with the over-the-fence neighbor in Home Improvement, he’s never seen fully -- at least throughout Season 1.

The other members of Great News’ ensemble are unctuous young British executive producer Greg Walsh (Adam Campbell); whacked out video editor Justin (Horatio Sanz); and oddball meteorologist Beth (series creator Wigfield). Their principal ratings adversary is the occasionally glimpsed Chip & Chet Report, whose anchors are accomplished on-air small-talkers.

There are a few cameo appearances sprinkled in, but not nearly of the caliber of Fey’s 30 Rock. Vicki Lawrence and Robin Leach are in multiple episodes while former Saturday Night Live players Ana Gasteyer and Rachel Dratch briefly do a sendup of Today’s Hoda and Kathie Lee in Episode 5.

But the big news of Great News is Martin, who in real life is 10 years older than her stated age on the show. More to the point, she’s an ageless wonder, and knows what to do with the best showcase of her talents since SCTV. Heelan, still a relative newcomer, manages to stay in step with the old pro in a surprisingly solid sitcom that for the most part keeps its balance amid one absurdity after another.

 
 
 
 
 
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