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The Good And Goofy 'Great News' Comes To NBC

Briga Heelan plays Katie, a news producer whose mother barges in on her already chaotic workplace.
Greg Gayne
Briga Heelan plays Katie, a news producer whose mother barges in on her already chaotic workplace.

The first thing you may notice about Great News, a comedy premiering Tuesday night on NBC, is its similarities to 30 Rock. Here, a news producer named Katie (Briga Heelan) has her work life disrupted when her boss (Adam Campbell) hires her loving but overbearing mom (the great Andrea Martin, late of SCTV and truckloads of comedy since then) as an intern at the station. And while the focus is news rather than late night, the frustrated goofball at the center of a constantly careening television production has a familiar tone. A few episodes in, Katie even high-fives herself.

From a genetic perspective, the similarities make some sense. Great News was created by Tracey Wigfield, who's written for 30 Rock and The Mindy Project, and it's executive produced by Tina Fey and Robert Carlock. That makes it Fey and Carlock's EP follow-up to Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, their follow-up to, of course, 30 Rock itself. And if Katie's mom is her Tracy Jordan — the unstoppable force that suddenly upends an already delicate work environment — then her Jenna Maroney is Portia (Nicole Richie) (!), the brazenly needy and overconfident co-anchor who constantly frustrates Chuck, the puffed-up anchor (John Michael Higgins) at the center of the show. Admittedly, the entire cast doesn't map that neatly, but when you hear the music from Jeff Richmond and Giancarlo Vulcano — who also scored 30 Rock and Kimmy Schmidt — you'd be forgiven for thinking you're back in Liz Lemon World. And that's not a bad thing at all.

[A side note: it's interesting to ponder that NBC originally had Kimmy Schmidt and apparently agreed to let it go, which is how it wound up on Netflix. Perhaps its success encouraged the network to have confidence in Fey and Carlock again.]

Like 30 Rock, Great News is a joke-based comedy. That might seem self-evident, but it's not, really. As comedies have become more tonally experimental and often much darker, the visual goofs and quick hits that are part of the Fey/Carlock house style executed so well here by Wigfield can't be taken for granted. The fact that the equivalent of the Kathie Lee/Hoda pairing in Katie's world is called Morning Wined Up With Kelly and Mary Kelly is just silly fun; it's a bit that proudly disclaims thematic ambition. It's the kind of comedy with jokes in it.

Over the first five episodes, Great News gets more sure-footed and funnier. It was smart of NBC to send out the whole ten-episode run, because comedies take time to settle. (I've seen six.) It can be a little uneven early on, and it would be great for Martin to play more than Carol's overbearing love and enthusiasm. But it's weird fun for people who like weird fun. I laughed a lot, and if you're going to have an insufferable news anchor in the tradition of Ted Knight's Ted Baxter, there may literally be nobody better than John Michael Higgins, who is consistently terrific.

Comedy is all about writing, style and execution, and the reason comedies are so challenging to review is that you can't argue with what makes people laugh or doesn't. What you can expect from a broadcast comedy that runs on jokes is that it have a lot of them and a good hit percentage, which Great News does.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Linda Holmes is a pop culture correspondent for NPR and the host of Pop Culture Happy Hour. She began her professional life as an attorney. In time, however, her affection for writing, popular culture, and the online universe eclipsed her legal ambitions. She shoved her law degree in the back of the closet, gave its living room space to DVD sets of The Wire, and never looked back.

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