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Two New Shows on Audience Network Are Worth a Look
October 17, 2017  | By David Hinckley

The Audience Network pops out two new comedies Tuesday that couldn’t be much more different either from each other or the rest of television.

Hit the Road (top) stars Jason Alexander as Ken Swallow, the patriarch of a traveling family band that could be described as the Partridge Family on truth serum. It debuts at 10 p.m. ET, and it’s flat-out situation comedy.

Loudermilk stars Ron Livingston (below) as Sam Loudermilk, an outwardly cynical drug and alcohol rehab counselor who’s looking for anything, preferably a relationship, which could redeem a life he hates. It premieres at 10:30 p.m. ET, and as the premise suggests, even the comedy lives on the dark side.

The two shows share something of a thematic link in music since it turns out Loudermilk was once a music journalist, writing for Rolling Stone and authoring several books.

Hit the Road is thick with music references since Ken (Alexander, right) and his wife Meg (Amy Pietz) started as an obscure pop duo in the ‘80s before corralling their kids into a family group years later.

The oldest, Ria (Natalie Sharp), is now 18 and feels about the way you’d expect a teenager to feel about being stuck on a bus with her family 24/7. She likes the music and can’t wait to play it somewhere else.

Second-oldest Alex (Nick Marini) looks like a clean-cut kid, except we quickly realize he’s got some secrets.

Jermaine (Tim Johnson Jr.) is adopted and neurotic. The youngest, Casey (Maddie Dixon-Poirier), is your basic precocious pre-teen, who’s picked up more than anyone realizes from hanging around with these neurotics and sometimes has to fix what everyone else screws up.

We’ve seen this family lineup before. We just haven’t seen them in a tour bus on the road, trying desperately to find work that will fuel their dream – or at least Ken and Meg’s dream – of making the big time.

We viewers understand their chances are about the same as the odds that Burger King will go vegan. The Swallow Family – or, again, at least Ken and Meg – may understand that as well, but they refuse to acknowledge or accept it, which creates the well from which the show draws its humor.

As the promos suggest, the humor is not family-friendly. Lots of sex and bodily function jokes, as well as backstage language. While not all of it seems necessary, it doesn’t overwhelm the storylines.

Those old enough to remember the Partridge Family may remember secretly wishing that once in a while they would forget the microphones were on and say what they were really thinking.

Hit the Road does that. Call it a public service.

Loudermilk gets most of its laughs from the droll, world-weary Sam and Ben Burns (Will Sasso, right), his roommate, AA sponsor, and only remaining friend.

The wonder is that even Ben can put up with Sam because he has a knack for being a jerk even when there’s no percentage in it. Or when it’s downright counterproductive, like when he’s trying to strike a spark with a girl.

We know he’s lonely and tired and he can’t forgive himself for the death of his wife. For all his apparent cynicism, we also quickly see that he’s devoted to rehab counseling and the notion that maybe he can help a few other people even when he can’t help himself.

There’s more tragedy than comedy here, and purely as a television show that further blurs some already fuzzy lines. Just as some hour-long dramas play more like comedies these days, we have a growing list of half-hour comedies that spend just as much time on matters that aren’t terribly funny at all.

Loudermilk draws much of its drama, and some of its comedy, from the people to whom Sam has so much trouble relating: women.

That includes Allison (Laura Mennell), who has just moved into an adjacent apartment and gives Sam a symbolic shot at a fresh start. She also seems willing to tolerate his lack of verbal discretion, though her long-term game feels as elusive to viewers as it does to Sam.

The other lead female is Claire (Anja Savcic, right, with Livingston), a total wreck of a young woman. She’s an addict of the most self-destructive order, and Sam is more or less forced into working harder with her than he at first wants to.

Claire has at least one familiar TV/movie trait. When we first see her, she looks ghastly, with unwashed hair and botched makeup and a go-away attitude. Even at that point, however, we can see there’s someone smart and attractive under the neglect, so it becomes interesting to follow Claire as the series progresses.

Ben also brings at least one disturbing secret to the table, and because he’s Sam’s friend, it takes Sam a while to figure it out.

Loudermilk gives us nice old cars and a quirky record store where Sam can make jokes about Saul Zaentz’s legal battles with Credence Clearwater Revival.

But the real hook is Sam’s battle to save himself by saving others, and by the second episode of Loudermilk, we care about all of them.

Audience, whose home is DirecTV, doesn’t do a lot of shows. It’s done some good ones, and that now includes Loudermilk and Hit the Road.

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