When Robin Williams starts riffing, complete with accents and slightly dated references to current events, do you laugh or groan? Were you a fan of “Ally McBeal,” “Boston Legal” or any of David E. Kelley’s other quirky shows? Does your love of “Buffy, the Vampire Slayer” make you a Sarah Michelle Gellar fan for life? Your answers to these questions will likely determine whether or not you will enjoy the new comedy “The Crazy Ones.” Williams plays a genius, slightly unstable advertising executive (think Don Draper on meth). Gellar is both his daughter and his colleague, which often puts her in the uncomfortable position of telling her father what to do.
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Here are five things you need to know about “The Crazy Ones,” which premieres Thursday, Sept. 26 at 9/8c on CBS.
1. Robin Williams Plays Robin Williams. Technically, Robin Williams plays Simon Roberts. But the character is a manic genius whose marriage ended and has been to rehab. The similarities are apparent and deliberate. From the moment Kelley wrote the script, Williams was his first choice for the role. When the two of them met, “Robin and I had a great meeting. I think we connected over who the character was, not just with his comedic sensibilities, but his personal flaws and his professional insecurities.” Williams elaborates, “Part of things that have happened in my life in real life, like rehab, divorce, and all that stuff, they’ve kind of built into the character of this character, that he’s had a past with [Gellar’s] mother and the idea of divorce. And I imagine somewhere down the line we’ll meet her. And the idea that he’s had a kind of an interesting life, to say the least, you know, just like myself.”
2. There Is A Lot of Improvised Dialogue. Though it often appears that Williams is making up his dialogue as he goes along, he is following the script precisely — at least on the first take. Said Kelley, “He says my words perfectly. Then he uses his… we had a script. We shot the script. After we got each scene, we’d go to Robin and say, “Do you want to play with it? Play with it.” And he did. “That doesn’t mean that the show is getting rid of its writers room. “What you have in the end is the architecture of the script, mainly the script, but you’ve got ad libs and the spontaneity and the joy of those moments on top of it.” Williams compares the experience to his first series, “Mork & Mindy.” “With ‘Mork & Mindy,’ the same idea of, you know, an open field. They would just say, literally, they would put in the script “Mork does his thing here,” which was just like, “Riff, riff little white boy, here we go.” So, I mean, in a weird way, that’s kind of the same thing here, but the idea now is that there’s a great… there’s a lot more to talk about just in terms of products, the world, the technology.”
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3. Sarah Michelle Gellar Is the Straight Woman. Gellar’s character, at least in the pilot, spends most of her time cleaning up her father’s messes. She has to keep a stiff upper lip, even when Williams is at his most inspired. Fortunately, she has plenty of practice. “I don’t know if Robin makes me a better parent or being a parent makes me a better actor opposite Robin, because it’s kind of the same thing, which is I have to keep a straight face. So it’s sort of like when my three‑year‑old says something really inappropriate and it’s really funny but I can’t laugh. That’s kind of like working with Robin.”
4. James Wolk’s Character Is Time-Traveling Bob Benson. On “Mad Men,” James Wolk plays Bob Benson, an account executive who conned his way into a job. Though his character on this show, Zach, is unlikely to turn out to be the former manservant to a millionaire, he is every bit as charming and scheming as Bob. In the pilot, he talks his way into dueting with Kelly Clarkson. Wolk jokes, “I only do ad agencies now. I only do strictly marketing and advertising.” But it was actually the opportunity to do something different from all of his other roles that appealed to him. “I have done more kind of dramatic television, dramatic work. And when this opportunity came about, when I read the script, I just kind of jumped out of my seat. I mean, my training, my background is in theater and I did theater all throughout college. And that is a ton of improv, a ton of comedy.”
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5. It’s Free Advertising for a Lot of Products. The pilot centers around an attempt to create a McDonald’s commercial. Future episodes feature other real brands. But it is not product placement. Executive producer Jason Winer explained why the show has opted to go this route. “Using a real brand is exciting for a show about advertising because you get to make it feel more authentic. When you are making up names of products, suddenly, the world doesn’t feel real. So we are only using the names of products because they give the stories authenticity. So far, no money has exchanged hands. McDonald’s did not pay for their part in the pilot at all, and they did not have final approval over anything that happened in the pilot. In fact, I was really determined that, given the fact that there were references to them, that we be allowed to be irreverent with the brand.”
“The Crazy Ones” premieres Thursday, Sept. 26 at 9/8c on CBS.