Credit “Loudermilk,” the recent Audience Network comedy from co-creators Peter Farrelly and Bobby Mort, for not being set in New York or Los Angeles. Following the day-to-day exploits of recovering alcoholic and former music critic Sam Loudermilk, the show makes its home in the damp climes of Seattle. As Sam navigates his way through recovery, helping those in his support group do the same, there’s a similar unorthodox way to how our antihero motivates the people around him.
In true big-city form, the opening episode of “Loudermilk” finds Sam hooked on new object of affection Allison (Laura Mennell), palling around with roommate Ben (Will Sasso), and tasked with helping out recovering addict and audience surrogate Claire (Anja Savcic).
The show’s at its best when it uses that same spirit of curiosity to learn more about what makes these characters work. Often, it sidelines that more interesting show in favor of a curmudgeonly soapbox for cultural quibbles. Most of “Loudermilk” exists in the area between these too — it may not be an inventive comedy, but when it plays to its strengths, there’s enough here to like.
Sam’s past troubles with alcoholism aren’t a structural crutch either. Though it takes a little while for the frequent AA meeting sequences to find their footing, that’s where “Loudermilk” really comes alive. Through the opening few episodes, “Loudermilk” himself is more of a funnel through which everyone’s experiences are filtered. Eventually, the focus shifts to Sam’s backstory and the show is better for it. In both modes, Livingston is an effective lead, capturing the bitterness and desire to be better that flows through most of the show’s other characters too.
As a unit, Sam, Allison, Ben, and Claire have a pretty effective group repartee pointing out each other’s flaws. But except for some heart-to-hearts between Sam and Claire, break up that central quartet and none of the remaining combinations really click. Sam and Ben talking about the former’s romantic shortcomings just never rise to the levels that the group meetings get to. Sam using his past job as a music critic to rocksplain to Allison often comes off as lesser Cameron Crowe. (Though, the show wisely leans on Canadian singer/songwriter Andy Shauf for some quality atmospheric help.)
Of course, Sam can’t exist only as a group counselor and all-around conversation-haver, so the show also pauses to indulge a bunch of his personal hangups. So many of these fist-shaking rants against misbegotten chivalry and misused turns of phrase feel like the show’s writing team grinding some personal axes, not necessarily in line with the character. Livingston pulls off these hipster bashing, millennial decrying segments as best he can, but it always feels like the show’s momentum grinds to a halt to indulge those grumbles.
With such a honest look at how with this disease affects people, it’s frustrating when “Loudermilk” also reverts to labored setups to punchlines that don’t need them. For every grounded moment that features the consequences of alcohol affecting these people’s lives, there’s a forced sight gag set up by 30 seconds of misdirection.
The result is a show that feels like it has to shoehorn Sam’s assholery to counterbalance the ways he’s helping the people in his orbit. Even as a counselor, he’s not the gentlest, best-practices kind of mentor, but at least there’s work here to make those attempts feel justified and earned.
And “Loudermilk” doesn’t treat group meetings as a magical process that absolves its participants of all guilt. For every confession made in the cone of anonymity, there are a few consequences outside of it. Being a jerk or being able to make people chuckle doesn’t make these characters immune. Even if the process to get there is sometimes a roundabout one (one episode about a former band member caught in a royalty battle is particularly worth it), “Loudermilk” is engaging with what it means to have a principled approach to recovery.
Without revealing too many details, “Loudermilk” also grows in later episodes to touch on the way that some characters are not who they purport to be. Shifting perspective entirely from outside Sam’s inner circle, the show offers an outsider’s view on what this process means to those who are inside it. It’s an example of how the closer this show gets to the truth, the more honest it feels. It may not always get there, but like the character that gives it its title, it’s at least trying.
“Loudermilk” airs Tuesday nights at 10:30 p.m. on Audience Network.
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