‘The Crazy Ones’ Review: Selling Out With Robin Williams

'The Crazy Ones' Review: Selling Out With Robin Williams

A show that asks us to root for a past his-prime ad man trying to get a pop star to sexily hawk hamburgers

Robin Williams spent years as one of only two actors on my Will Not Watch List, a special place for actors who've made too many manipulative feel-good movies. Kevin Spacey was the other actor on the list, and thanks to “House of Cards,” he's off. I really like him now.

Williams got off the list a few years ago with a low-key, emotionally honest interview on Marc Maron's “WTF” podcast. I'm glad, because that allowed me to watch his curious new CBS sitcom, “The Crazy Ones.” There's something good about the show, and I think it's the sweet, awkward dynamic between Williams’ ad man, Simon Roberts, and his daughter, Sydney (Sarah Michelle Gellar), who has joined him in advertising.

Also read: 8 of Fall TV's Biggest Questions: Can NBC Reclaim Thursdays? Will Robin Williams Deliver a Hit?

But there's a lot that’s bad, starting with the show's annoying slickness. Advertisers have managed to create a myth, with their cool glasses and film-school degrees, that they are as much artists as, well, actual artists. In truth, there are many kinds of advertisers. There are geniuses in their chosen field who do odd jobs to make money while they pursue their real dreams. (“House of Cards” director David Fincher is a great example.) There are people who flat-out love to sell and do it brilliantly. And then, of course, there are total sell-outs.

All play important roles in our society. But after watching “Crazy Ones,” I don’t know what kind of advertisers Simon and Sidney Roberts are. They just seem like people who want to keep their jobs. So does everyone, so that's not a very exciting motivation. To the extent that I'm rooting for them, it's only because I like the actors playing them.

Also read: Predicting Fall TV's Hits and Misses: Good News for Robin Williams, Bad for Rebel Wilson (Exclusive)

In the pilot, their fates depend on keeping McDonald's as a client. To do it, they have to recruit Kelly Clarkson, playing herself, to sing a sexed-out burger jingle.

Will you indulge me another personal prejudice? I don't want to see McDonald's sell more burgers. Great as their fries are – and I don't know how they make Diet Coke taste so good – McDonald's does some bad things in terms of the environment, the mechanizing of our society, the exploitation of two- and four-legged animals. Sure, they have a right to exist. But I don't have to like them.

I'm also tired of seeing my pop stars sell products instead of songs. In a better, less cynical show, the peppy singer would be working against the multinational fast-food giant instead of for it. The ad types trying to recruit her would be bad guys.

Also read: Robin Williams Pays Tribute to His Late ‘Comedy Buddha’ Jonathan Winters

Wait, you say. I'll bet you like “Mad Men,” you dopey hypocrite. I do. And I am. But “Mad Men” is about people who know their clients are bad, and think about it once in a while. They drink and philander and muddle their way through. They kind of hate themselves. They're fascinating.

In the “Crazy Ones” pilot, Roberts and Roberts seem to be making day-to-day decisions to hang on to a pretty opulent way of life, without qualms. Again, that's their right, but I don't have to like it.

Am I judging TV characters? No. I'm judging show creator David E. Kelley for not giving them more dimensions. I could root for a guy who uses his creative gifts for money if I understood why he was doing it.

Also read: Robin Williams Loses Reddit Virginity: 10 Things We Learned About the ‘Crazy Ones’ Star

Take Williams, for example. He's said he went back to TV for the money after two divorces. No problem. I accept that. I love his honesty.

But I just find it hard to care about the guy he's playing on “The Crazy Ones.” I think Simon would be better off if he lost his big-money job and devoted himself to something better than making people feel hungry for a Big Mac.

Simon is a little pathetic – he's a giant child – but everyone considers him kind of a modern-day Don Draper, albeit one who may be past his prime. The most endearing thing about him is how much he loves his daughter. And so the family relationship is the best part of “Crazy Ones,” even though Williams and Gellar's chemistry feels a little bit off.

This may sound weird, but I want them to hug more, so I can feel more familiarity. Actually, I want any kind of warmth on “The Crazy Ones.”

None of the above problems would be problems if I were laughing so hard through “The Crazy Ones” that I didn't have time to stop and think. But I did. The show just isn't very funny. Other comedies have been able to overcome this problem – “Big Bang Theory,” for instance – by being nice and cute. But “Crazy Ones” is neither.

The show leans very heavily on Williams – or caters to Williams, I can't tell – by having him do his usual fast-talking funny voices routine. You know: the thing he's most famous for that is also the worst thing he does. Watch “Good Will Hunting” or “Dead Poets Society” and you'll see a brilliant actor with a huge heart. Watch Williams on Comic Relief and you'll see a guy trying to help. Watch “Crazy Ones” and you see a guy who's made his own bed. I'm probably ascribing Simon Roberts more likability than he's earned, simply because of my memories of past Williams roles.

James Wolk, who plays another ad exec on “Crazy Ones,” was brilliant on “Mad Men” as Bob Benson, a scrappy, desperate con man who whores himself into steady gigs. Now that was a great character. Wolk practically stole the sixth season of that masterful show.

Here, he's just another yuppie showing Clarkson how easy it is to sell out. It happens in a scene where he and Williams riff on fast food innuendos. God, it's dumb.

We know it's easy to sell out. How about a show about someone who won't?

“The Crazy Ones” premieres at 9/8c Thursday on CBS.

  • Kellye

    Here's a plot line for a show which might be more to your liking: Person who writes TV reviews for q third string (or lower) Hwood website quits the industry (if, indeed, he can be said to be in the industry having not created or helped to create anything) and spends his time fighting the obesity epidemic…that is if he has any time away from the only paying job he can find: flipping burgers at fast food restaurant.

    • tim.molloy

      Weird, that's almost the plot of my novel! “How to Break Bad News,” Virgin USA. Available now on Kindle. :)

  • Jonathan

    Reminds me of Meryl Streep's response when people criticized her for being in Mamma Mia. She said something akin to, “these jobs make it possible for me to do other work.” Similar to comments Steve Martin has made about how his lesser movies make it possible for him to buy art and be v generous in helping to fund many museum programs.

    I'm not sure I will ever watch this show, not really given to sitcoms. Still, I see no reason to be so harsh in a v personal way. He has been upfront about his financial needs. He has also done lots of good work and been v generous in giving his time and money during the good times.

    Always odd to me that people find it easy to criticize others for selling out when they themselves might be seen to be doing the v same thing.

    • tim.molloy

      I think I say above exactly what you're saying in your second paragraph… and I like him personally, to the extent I can like someone I've never met. Anyway, thanks for reading and for your thoughts.

    • hashtag

      “V generous,” “v personal”? Are you kidding us with this crap??

  • Penelope

    Tim, I agree with Kellye's insightful comments. You've irritated me for the last time. No longer reading anything with your byline, period. I think you greatly overestimate a readers interest in your personal and wobbly preferences in actors, fast food, and frequency of fake hugs. Useless waste of space! I want a review of the show, I don't give a flying rat's hind end about your personal issues.

    • tim.molloy

      See you next time!

  • Total Sell-Out

    TIm is right on. This show is completely utterly awful. It's a 30 min. commercial for McDonald's. Why the hell Robin Williams’ reps would demean him like this is beyond me. He is very talented. He should be doing HBO or Showtime, or even Netflix. Not some dumbed down CBS show catering to the TWO AND A HALF MEN crowd.

    And Kelly Clarkson singing for McD's, WTF? What's the 2nd episode going to be, Miley Cyrus singing about how much she loves stuffing a big fat Taco Bell burrito in her mouth???

    I understand Robin Williams needs money, and more power to him. But seriously Rob, choose some better material!!! You had a name, you had an image, and now you've soured it for the low of the low in TV.

    If you wanted a commercial campaign for a big conglomerate corporation that poisons our food supply with their drek, I bet you couldn't gotten more money just doing an actual commercial.

    On another note, Tim, don't answer these idiots back. No one on Deadline or any other industry website ever answers in the comments. Don't stoop to the level of the idiots out there. Your review is dead on!

    • tim.molloy

      Thanks! (Sorry, couldn't resist this one last time.) Really appreciate it.

      • filmklassik

        Oh Jesus, Tim. You aren't REALLY asking for more hugs, are you? (Groan…) Or, worse yet, more typical Tinseltown hypocrisy in the form of actors and producers on the corporate dime (Kelley, Williams and Geller) purveying a corporately-funded product that is inveighing against the evils of — wait for it — selling out to corporations!

        “See? What we're doing is, we're using THEIR money against them!”

        My, how pseudo-rebellious that would be.

        And how familiar, too, because that's pretty much every TV show and movie now.

  • Devin McMusters

    I eat at McDonalds, but I'll skip a few weeks after finding out they stooped to associating themselves with this drek.

  • Shannon du Plessis

    Watched it. Didn't laugh once. Not a good sign.

  • Sandy Kay

    I loved it! I was skeptical, hoping beyond hope that Robin would not go into his annoying spastic ad lib comedy. Surprise!! Oh Happy Day~ He did not! I love Robin Williams the actor, poignant and funny. I love him in The Crazy Ones. I love him.

  • Kiki Fogg

    Speaking as somebody who LOVES Williams’ signature schtick, one of the things driving you away from this show is one of the things driving me *towards* it.

  • Jim in Va Beach

    “Annoying, spastic, ad lib comedy”. Well put, Sandy Kay. For me, that pretty much describes Robin Williams’ schtick, and I don't find it funny at all. Sometimes he does have something funny to say, but that annoying voice he puts on just ruins it. Even in interviews, he seems to feel as it he has to be “on” and apparently finds it difficult to just be straight. I don't always want to hear the annoying voice and watch the spastic mannerisms. If that's a character he's playing, fine. Is that his idea of funny every time? Lucille Ball once said in an interview that she wasn't very funny, but that she knew how to play funny if given funny things to say in the script. I loved Sarah Michelle Gellar on “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and am glad to see her again, but I have a feeling this show won't last.

  • Morgain McGovern

    Someday soon, these dinosaur networks will realize they died a long time ago. There's a reason why all the good shows are on AMC/TMC and HBO (Mad Men, Walking Dead, Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones). It's because they're not desperately advertising useless China crap that Americans don't want-They're actually focusing on good writing and unknown actors. Bye bye dying networks! NBC, CBS, ABC-you guys had a chance to change the world and you sold us all out; you deserve to be put out of business.

    • cynicaldriver

      The irony…

      AMC has one of the worst commercial to show time ratios in the business (when they are playing movies.)

      HBO makes their money from subscriptions and cable company contract kick-backs, so they don't need the ads.

  • Jan

    Bitter much Tim?

  • ajarianne

    I just wish they came up with a “real” name for the show. Somehow “The Crazy Ones” wouldn't make me turn the station unless I had some permanent idea of what it was about. I like the actor's enough – but if I don't remember it's on – I'll fly right past it surfing.

  • Ted

    A “will not watch” list? You are aware of how juvenile that sounds, right?

    • william wipperdink

      you are on my do not read list now
      do you realize how stupid your comment sounds.

  • cynicaldriver

    No offense, but… The world could use a little more cynicism, and a little less hypocritical posturing. I am tired of CONSTANTLY having this whole “big business is bad” agenda shoved down my throat.

    Big business pays our bills. It's high time that society admitted that and moved on to more important issues that actually DO need work… Maybe helping all the starving kids in America BEFORE helping the ones in Haiti would be a step in the right direction; but I know that isn't going to happen, because then the government (both sides) wouldn't be able to continue their own hypocritical posturing on the global stage of politics.

    • william wipperdink

      are you kidding me ??? most big business avoids paying ANY TAX AT ALL !!!
      you sound like a big corporate shill

      • cynicaldriver

        Who do you work for? Probably a business.
        Where do they get their supplies? Probably a bigger business.

        They pay your wages, which pay your bills.

        The economy for dummies.

        I wasn't talking about taxes. Our government doesn't NEED all the money they are getting. They COULD lower taxes by simply spending less, but that will also never happen as long as we keep thinking Republican and Democrat. Until the parties are abolished, it will never change. Mark my words… BOTH sides are nothing but servants to lobbyists who work for the very corporations you seem to hate. The ones who make all that cheap shit you buy from Walmart, so you don't have to go kill a chicken yourself.

        There are bigger issues than whether a company makes a profit.

        • william wipperdink

          wow, you are a fool who is clueless to what goes on in upper management

          • cynicaldriver

            I do though… They are there to help ensure the company stays profitable. Those profits go to either the person who owns the company, or to the stockholders who own the company. Very rarely does a company actually do what Apple did under Steven Jobs, and bank it all for later.

            Your problem isn't the business itself, it's the stockholders who demand higher and higher profit margins, so they can sell their stocks for bigger returns. It really is that simple.

            Walmart is a cancer. They are not the typical company. They do everything they can to ensure those cheap prices, including refusing to pay living wages to their employees and actually having state-aid packets available and ready to give employees who complain that they don't make enough money. Why? They do it because they have already destroyed so many small businesses that they are trying to survive by selling their goods to the very people they put out of work. Walmart spends six months raising the prices slowly so that they can finally have a rollback of a few cents and convince people they are saving money when they are still paying more than they did before the cycle began.

            Without manufacturing, this country has had to try and make due on service industries only. The problem with service industries is that their services have to be sold at a price people can afford. Since so few people work in higher paying manufacturing jobs any longer, they have had to lower costs by ensuring wages and benefits get cut over time, and by letting employees go.

            You can't blame the service companies, because they are just trying to stay alive in an economy that is ill equipped to support them. The average service job pays less than $10 an hour, while the average production job pays $14 or more. That is a massive difference in income for people who have lost their jobs at mills, construction firms, car plants, textile plants, tool & die manufacturers, and countless other industries that have seen a massive shift to Mexico or overseas in the last 10 years.

            Get out of your box and take a look around! It's not the businesses that failed us, it's the multinationals and the government who colluded to usher in this “great” global economy we are all suffering under.

            Yes, the businesses wanted NAFTA, and they thought it would help them, which was a mistake. They should take some of the blame, but the bulk of it rests on the shoulders of Bush Sr., Clinton, Reagan, and all the people who pushed for the passage of the NAFTA treaty.

            NAFTA only helped sellers like Walmart/Target, and foreign companies who wanted to sell their products here. It actually harmed American companies. Then of course there's the whole issue of overtaxation and environmental roadblocks placed on any kind of production.

            You can't sell your shit to a country filled with people who don't have the jobs which allow them to afford it. Everyone keeps calling this a recession, but it's not… It's a depression. Upper management is only doing what they are told by Board-Members and owners… Whose only reason for existence is to provide higher values to their investors. If the people in upper management stop doing what they are told, then they will also be out of a job and unable to provide for their families.

            The real evil is Wall Street greed and banking, not big business.

    • richard goad

      big business is constantly finding new ways to vacuum our wallets because of the lousy economy. airline fees, supermarket con games, gas hikes, service fees, extended warranties, reverse mortgages, greedy ass utilities. yeah, big business pays our bills-with our money. keep it up, you gluttonous, rapacious, evil suckfish business bastards. you'll all be in the same boat with the rest of us. and in addition I hope bikers start pounding on your range rovers and dragging your sorry asses out and force feed a bag of big macs down your throats. u deserve a snake today.

      • cynicaldriver

        Maybe they wouldn't have to vacuum our wallets if we recalled all the loser politicians, abolish the party system, and repealed NAFTA.

        They have rising costs, and those rising costs are passed on to us, or they go out of business. Welcome to inflation.

        Inflation is caused when costs go up and the government prints more money to cover the excess, instead of looking at areas of waste. Make no mistake, Government is business. The reason why our government is failing is because the politicians lack the fortitude to make choices a CEO would make in 3 seconds. Why does a bridge have to look fancy? Why not just make a bridge? How much EXTRA does that bridge cost when they have to spend all that money on brick-work and painting, rather than pouring concrete and sealing it?

        Gas prices go up because of demand for a limited resource, not because of some conspiracy to cost you more. You do realize that China is now in the midst of their own “roaring 20's?” The massive expansion of their economy is creating an increased demand on things like fuel, which causes the prices to go up. We are competing against a country that has FIVE TIMES the number of people in it, who work for less than a fraction of the wages.

        Business works, as long as the government protects it. NAFTA sold out American companies to foreign ones by making it so that Chinese goods could be imported for cheaper than it costs to make it here. So, yes… Big Business pays our bills. FOREIGN BUSINESS kills us. Without OUR money staying HERE, in the States, there is less and less money for the American companies to pay us with.

        That's why Macro-Economics should be a required course for anyone who wants to serve a public office higher than county-level. Most people simply don't understand how it all works, they just like to think they do because they listen to idiots (from both political sides) who tell them what to think.

      • cynicaldriver

        For the record… I am not rich. You presumptuous moron.

        Even if i was, I certainly wouldn't buy a Range Rover. I would buy a car that supports MY economy, not India's. I drive a Saab, which was owned by GM, which made my money come back HERE.

        Unlike you, I don't shop at Walmart, because Walmart sells almost nothing made in America, which means the vast majority of your money (the bit that isn't Walmart's own share) spent there goes overseas, to boost the CHINESE economy.

  • omar little

    “I’m also tired of seeing my pop stars sell products instead of songs.” They have to sell products because people download the songs illegally or watch the videos for free on Youtube. Where have you been for the last ten years?

    • william wipperdink

      Beyonce is worth 500 million dollars
      I hope you don't think that's reasonable
      I don't and I don't care what anyone that disagrees with me thinks.

  • Tim Molloy's Conscience

    Kevin Spacey is on your “Will Not Watch List,” yet you watched him in House of Cards?
    So you do watch people on your “Will Not Watch List”…pretty much all the time it sounds like, because you also watched Williams in this series.
    You say Kevin Spacey makes too many manipulative “feel good” movies, so it's questionable that you think his characters in Glengarry Glen Ross, American Beauty, The Usual Suspects, and Seven contribute to anything “feel good.”
    You're furious at these two for ridiculous reasons. Just be glad you managed to snag a career reporting on what people like them do for a much better living than yours.

    • william wipperdink

      you didn't read the article carefully
      read it a million times until you do.

  • william wipperdink

    I agree with Tim quite a bit. the show sucked.
    and seem like there are a lot of low IQ people commenting just here to give Tim a hard time.

  • Sarah_M547

    I´m not sure the quality of this serie…. d­ℜ­o­p­7­0­.­ℂ­o­m

  • Tom Tuerff

    Tim: I'm presuming you have never worked in an ad agency. I've spent over 30 years working in advertising on the creative side and I laughed my ass off at this show. Maybe that's its problem. I've never known a comedy about advertising agencies (Bewitched doesn't count, it wasn't really about advertising) that lasted more than six weeks because it was clear that nobody was getting the humor in them, and they were clearly written by ex-ad guys who thought EVERYONE would think creative pitches and office in-jokes can be funny. I will happily watch this until it's cancelled, which I hope is not soon. But I'm not holding my breath.

  • Agnes

    What !!! You're expecting social relevance in a sit-com??..Grow Up.
    That having been said….This was “Painful” to watch.. And why would
    Kelly Clarkson agree to play a total bitch? Doesn't she know that there
    are people out there who can't tell the difference between fact and fiction.
    Just wish they paid for better writers and told Robin to CALM DOWN !

  • nanooknw

    I agree it was painful to watch but we tried and found the writing so disjointed that it was tough to follow. Maybe if they had a better storyline. Michelle Geller is no comedian. She looks genuinely unable to cope. Robin Williams should find a new character. His ad guy who morphs into Mork is not funny this time.

  • FutureFox

    Send the “Crazy Ones” back to “Arkham Asylum.” This show needs to be strapped down and carted away.

  • Nelson Pawlak

    Trying to wrap this comedy beast around a character so benign is a failure waiting to happen. Robin needs to swing his balls around a weekly stand-up comedy show he can host while improvising on the spot because that's when he's at his best. The networks would fight to pick it up and the viewers would love it. :D

  • Matt Beauchamp

    This might be the most idiotic review I've ever read. You suck

  • Matt Beauchamp

    Williams admitted he was broke and needed the money….thus, this piece of garbage show. Possibly the most idiotic, cliched piece of crap ever shown on network TV, which is saying something.