America is full of inequalities, and most of them have been amplified since COVID-19 arrived. Oxfam reports that 99 percent of the world’s income fell in 2020, while the Earth’s 10 richest men saw their fortunes more than double. Underpaid essential workers toiled while white collar workers bought dumb shit online and worked at home in sweatpants, and 70 (70! It’s a lot!) congresspeople were caught dumping stocks before the rest of America really learned how bad COVID was about to get. It’s a fucked up system, and sometimes, it seems like there’s really no legit way out of it.
All of that is certainly considered in “Sprung,” the new Amazon Freevee series from “Yes, Dear,” “My Name Is Earl,” and “Raising Hope” creator Greg Garcia. The show’s 10 episodes follow three ex-cons released early because of COVID, who are promptly (and unceremoniously) dropped into society. Jack (Garret Dillahunt) spent 26 years in jail for getting caught with a backpack full of weed when he was 18. Rooster (Phillip Garcia) is so stupid that almost anything could have landed him in the slammer, and Gloria (Shakira Barrera) was doing time for bank fraud, wire fraud, money laundering, and a bunch of other stuff like that. Jack and Rooster were cellies, and Gloria was Jack’s girlfriend — until they were released, they’d never met, though they’d spent hours talking through the prison’s toilet pipes. (How romantic!)
When the trio are dumped into the world, Jack trades the $40 he’s been given for a night at Rooster’s mom’s house. Gloria gets on board as well, after being picked up in the family’s ‘76 Pacer. Barb (Martha Plimpton, in a “Raising Hope” reunion with Garcia and Dillahunt) is a grade-A character. She’s got hair like Jerri Blank, schemes for days, and a no-nonsense attitude when it comes to her new housemates. If they’re going to be there and eat the various casseroles she prepares, they’re going to have to be prepared to earn their keep. That means doing crime, even if it puts them at risk of going back to jail.
Jack struggles at first, insisting he’s not a criminal, but ultimately caves after seeing the group planning a robbery in which they’re sure to get caught. He becomes the team’s mastermind and their conscience, insisting they only steal from “bad people.” Ultimately, the team focuses on a Marjorie Taylor Greene-type congresswoman played by Kate Walsh. She’s one of those insider trading creeps, and Gloria notices that her house is just loaded with fancy art. If they could get in and steal just one painting, they’d be set for life — or at least for long enough to get out of Barb’s house.
Nothing goes to plan, of course, and “Sprung” takes a turn toward even more Robin Hood-esque justice when the group realizes Walsh’s Paula Tackleberry has replaced all the art in her house with forgeries and intends to sell the originals in New York before investing all the money in whatever companies she finds out are about to get vaccine approval. She’s even involved her Latinx housekeeper without her knowledge, in an attempt to pin it all on her if she gets caught. In short, Tackleberry is garishly despicable, making for an easy target to hate when everyone decides to take her down.
To say whether the gang succeeds would be a spoiler, but one need only look at Garcia’s other shows to realize he’s got a soft spot for the underdog. It’s part of what makes “Sprung” so charming at times. His story about have-nots shows each of them expressing a lot more sense than the majority of the population. Plimpton’s Barb is especially winning, and she’s written with all these little characterizations that make her that much more real. (She only drinks boxed wine, but she likes to make it seasonal by adding things like jelly beans. She’s been dating a guy online she thinks is big in the Eastern Ohio modeling scene, but she’ll only send him selfies taken from 20 feet away. She also had a big vest phase in the ‘90s.) Ancillary characters like bad-dude-with-a-heart-of-gold Melvin (James Earl) and Rooster’s on again/off again charming-idiot girlfriend Wiggles (Claire Gillies) add a nice flavor to the show as well, and I truly have no idea how Gillies kept up Wiggles’ airhead accent the whole time.
Where “Sprung” falters, though, is in its weight. It’s full of talented actors, and they get into semi-interesting scrapes, but it doesn’t feel entirely consequential. The show seems like it’s trying to say something about everything — and especially about the ride we all went on during the first couple of years of COVID. All the hits are here: the jokes about the garbage we used for masks at the beginning, the wink-wink lines about it all being over in a week, the bits from Donald Trump’s press conference where he implied that people should drink bleach. It was a dumb time, to be sure, but to be reminded of it over and over isn’t as funny as Team “Sprung” believes. It dates the show almost instantly, creating a massive hump “Sprung” never really gets over.
All in all, “Sprung” is a fine show. Plimpton is, again, a legend, and bit players like “True Blood” and “Heels” star Chris Bauer bring a little extra joy to the proceedings. You might not love “Sprung,” but maybe that’s OK. In a world full of deadly germs, economic hardship and nasty congresspeople, sometimes being OK is good enough.
“Sprung” premieres Friday, August 19 on Amazon Freevee with two episodes. Subsequent episodes will be released weekly, with a one-hour season finale arriving September 16.