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Hayes ride: NBC's Sean Saves the World is exactly what he wants it to be


Sean Hayes and Linda Lavin in Sean Saves the World. NBC photo

Premiering: Thursday, Oct. 3rd at 8 p.m. (central) on NBC
Starring: Sean Hayes, Linda Lavin, Megan Hilty, Sami Isler, Thomas Lennon, Echo Kellum
Produced by: Sean Hayes, Victor Fresco, James Burrows, Todd Milliner

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Sean Hayes and subtlety grow ever more distant, with Earth and Mars now in closer proximity to each other.

He’s the man, though, for those who prefer their comedy loud and bang-over-the-head obvious.

Hayes first stole scenes 15 falls ago as wacky second banana Jack McFarland in the premiere season of Will & Grace. Now he returns to the same night and network in Sean Saves the World.

The openly gay actor (whose company also produces Hot In Cleveland, Grimm and Hollywood Game Night) stars as an openly gay single father struggling to parent a 14-year-old daughter named Ellie (Sami Isler). A requisite pushy mother -- Linda Lavin as Lorna -- regularly intervenes. And at his workplace, an online realty company, Sean also is bedeviled by an imperious new owner named Max (Thomas Lennon).

Hayes seems wedded to the old-time sitcom religion, which calls for multiple cameras, a live studio audience and a laugh track whenever the proceedings need “sweetening.” His is the only NBC comedy series with such additives, but Hayes gets a bit snippy when asked if it’s a format he favors.

“As boring of an answer as it is, I just enjoy acting and now I totally enjoy producing,” Hayes said during NBC’s portion of the recent Television Critics Association “press tour.” “It doesn’t matter how many cameras there are . . . I don’t have one or the other (format) that I prefer. I just prefer good material.”

OK, be that way. But Sean Saves the World stands out like a throbbing sore thumb amid NBC’s other Thursday night comedy entries -- Parks and Recreation, Welcome to the Family and The Michael J. Fox Show. Hayes and his supporting cast fire off broad jokes like machine gun fire to the howling delight of a studio audience/laugh track.

“Sean, you look a little flush. Have you had a BM today?” Lavin’s Lorna asks in the second of three episodes sent for review. Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!!!

But not all is lost. Some of the jokes hit their marks -- perhaps benefiting from the law of averages -- and Hayes also knows how to work his way through a sight gag, whether fumbling with kitchen utensils or trying to escape his workplace through an out-of-reach bathroom window.

Thursday’s first episode also sets up the overall premise when Ellie asks her dad, “If you’re gay, then how did you and mom have sex?”

Sean’s response doesn’t waste words: “Here’s what happened. Gay. Tried not to be. Was. Was again. Was one more time because it was not unpleasant. Am.”

Added to the cast after the pilot was taped is Smash refugee Megan Hilty as Sean’s cleavage-flaunting workmate Liz, who’s also intent on helping him raise his coming-of-age daughter. In Episode 2, they go bra shopping before grandma later takes over and dutifully embarrasses the child. Sean, of course, is in a dither. Ellie used to be a little kid and now “Bang, kaboobs!” he laments.

The other workplace denizen is Hunter (Echo Kellum), whose lines and delivery are both amusing and comparatively subdued. In short, he’s not a shouter, even when telling Sean in Episode 2, “People can tell you’re gay faster than they can tell I’m black.”

Lavin, once a big TV star in her own right in CBS’ Alice, is now the epitome of a seasoned pro who generally makes the best of what she’s given. But this is very much Hayes’ show, and boy, does he know it. Both his performance and his makeup are overdone, making him look ready to jump into La Cage Aux Folles. Episode 3 is particularly painful after Lorna sets her son up on a blind date with a hunky periodontist, who brings flowers to Sean’s apartment before his fretting about Ellie’s first date repeatedly ruins everything.

Oddly enough, though, Sean Saves the World is more assured in what it wants to be than its time slot competitor, Robin Williams’ new The Crazy Ones. Although it had big opening night ratings following a new episode of The Big Bang Theory, the Williams sitcom seemed very much like a stumbling work in progress.

Hayes won’t have that problem. For better or worse, Sean Saves the World is exactly what he wants it to be -- an old school, joke-loaded, histrionic showcase for himself. This is not a guy who will go quietly into the night.


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