“Nobodies” is produced by Melissa McCarthy. It does not star Melissa McCarthy. This needs to be made clear, in part because her name is both front and center in marketing efforts and in the show itself. Though her presence in the Hollywood-set comedy is ever-present — even overwhelming, at times — McCarthy is not a series regular. “Nobodies” is about the people we’re all looking past to get a glimpse at a movie star, and it mostly does a fine job of giving these non-stars their due.
The TV Land original series written and produced by Groundlings graduates Hugh Davidson, Larry Dorf, and Rachel Ramras focuses on three writer-producers who graduated from the Groundlings improv school years ago and are now trying to pitch a movie. Yes, there’s a heavy dose of meta comedy here, as the titular “nobodies” try to become “somebodies” by piggy-backing off of name brand talent: They know McCarthy through Groundlings and have written their movie (titled “Mr. First Lady”) with her in mind.
Again, Melissa McCarthy does not appear in the first two episodes, but the constant discussion of her name makes it feel like her inevitable cameo is the primary goal of the series. The three main characters talk about their history, discuss how to get her attached to the movie, visit her home, stare at billboards featuring McCarthy, and examine multiple family photographs of Melissa while within the McCarthy household. If they weren’t so focused on their own project, I’d worry the group has a bad stalking habit.
Meanwhile, McCarthy’s husband (and fellow producer on the series ) Ben Falcone does guest star in the first two episodes, playing himself and further teasing McCarthy’s appearance. Known names like Jim Rash, Nate Faxon, Maya Rudolph, Jason Bateman, and Allison Janney do the same, all playing versions of themselves. These established stars are there for two reasons: one intentional and the other an unfortunate side effect:
First, the near-constant presence of stars helps illustrate just how close these three are to breaking through Hollywood’s glass ceiling. If they can just become friends with one of them, or convince them to read their script, or just make them laugh in the right moment, boom — they’re in. It’s a deeply relatable desire, and “Nobodies” earns more than a few laughs simply by understanding the carnal appeal of celebrity. More to the point, the series tries to highlight the thin line between famous people and the non-famous, mostly by emphasizing the business imperative of courting stardom to these three writers’ hopes and dreams.
And yet the famous faces’ consistent rotation through the story only makes us want more celebrity guests. “Nobodies” doesn’t push back enough on the innate urge to obsess over fame and fortune, instead indulging the audience’s desire to see their favorite stars on screen. Sure, the trio often embarrasses themselves when faced with a celebrity, but the joke is based in the missed opportunity or sheer outlandishness of their actions. Never does it ask them or us to question Hollywood’s obsession with fame, and thus we are invited to fall prey to it.
As a light-hearted comedy, it doesn’t have to challenge perception, and as an industry-focused story, it doesn’t have to hold Hollywood’s culture over the flames. The series could live on its ample supply of good jokes alone, if only the nobodies were properly elevated in a story meant to be about them. “Nobodies” should be the platform for these three to shine, but they end up ceding the spotlight to their guests or, worse yet, merely the idea of their guests (with all that McCarthy talk). Other than their hefty portions of screen time, we’re not given enough reason to invest in these three “nobodies” instead of the funny “somebodies” they’re after.
To that end, “Nobodies” makes good use of their celebrity guests, in that the scenes with them are actually pretty funny. Maya Rudolph makes fart jokes funny again in a solid gag based around uber-awkward verbal diarrhea. Jason Bateman goes back to the well of put-upon everyman, milking laughs by simply trying to play a normal game of basketball. And Allison Janney gives a wonderfully biting turn when offered an elevator pitch on an actual elevator.
While the main cast has moments of their own, these scenes nevertheless overshadow them. Should the trio be faulted for letting their guests be too funny? Probably not, especially after just two episodes, and the rest of the season could very well up the profile on this largely appealing trio. They’ve just cast an unnecessarily big shadow to climb out from behind.
“Nobodies” premiered its first two episodes at SXSW. TV Land will air the series premiere March 29 at 10 p.m.