On the eve of what is likely to be its series finale, Super Fun Night is a largely forgotten show. Despite some initial buzz, the show has more or less disappeared from critical consciousness. It hasn’t entirely disappeared from the ratings game—the last available numbers gave the show a total audience of 4.6 million viewers and a 1.5 rating in the advertiser-preferred 18-49 demographic, which puts it close to the same level as ABC’s sister offering on the same night, Suburgatory.
But where Suburgatory is a precise, wicked satire of the suburbs, designed to garner critical praise and cult fans, Super Fun Night has no discernible goal or target audience. The show is ostensibly about how Rebel Wilson’s Kimmie Boubier and her two best friends and roommates, Helen-Alice and Marika, learn to overcome their shy awkwardness in favor of semi-mature womanhood.
In every way that matters for the life of a sitcom, Super Fun Night fails. It doesn’t have a coherent voice. It doesn’t have a discernible structure. It does have all the plot elements that would make up a framing device, but it never commits to the ideas. In fact, the show uses and discards two separate devices throughout the season—that each episode is one of Kimmie’s video diaries and that each episode is the one night of the week the roommates venture outside the apartment. Both end up becoming a cumbersome distraction from the show instead of enhancing it.
This is unfortunate, because in other respects, Super Fun Night is a powerful show. Underneath the mess, the nuts and bolts of the show—three flawed, but relatable women—are instantly and painfully recognizable as actual people. Helen-Alice is a mousy girl who has never had sex; Marika is a tough, “sporty,” in-the-closet lesbian; and Kimmie is overweight and attitudinal, often accidentally vulgar, but also a very successful lawyer. They are the counterparts to the man-child sitcom staple. They are loser-women. For that alone, the show is doing something few sitcoms have—these characters are expanding the definition of “young woman in New York” on television, and in a rather knowing way, too. “The virgin,” “the lesbian,” and “the fat girl” are types that are ruthlessly exploited in sitcom comedy, but Super Fun Night is deliberately choosing these types to unpack. The arc of the show is about dragging these characters from the stereotypes that even they believe and into the more complex world of adult maturity.
Super Fun Night has wound up in the position of having what could be some of the most unique characters on television—and having a demonstrated inability to get viewers interested in them. Despite several attempts to rehab and retool the story, there was never a clear enough vision for this show to succeed. In the end, its mission statement boiled down to “Here! Look at Rebel Wilson!” But Wilson flounders without something more to bounce off of, and the show can’t decide if she is to be laughed with or laughed at. ABC also reshot Super Fun Night as a single-camera sitcom, which was the first of many reboots the show has suffered through. As a result, Super Fun Night has the feel of a multi-cam sitcom, with its staged humor and pauses for laughter—Rebel Wilson’s humor is awkwardly broad slapstick, which probably would play better with a live audience.
In single-camera, the show seems to be attempting subtlety. But there is none to be had. Any given episode of Super Fun Night is a mélange of humorous one-liners combined with endless and unfunny physical-comedy gags. It’s perplexing how a show that is largely boring is also punctuated by moments of laugh-out-loud humor, but somehow Super Fun Night has accomplished this. Take the recent episode “Cookie Prom”: The same storyline included a wasted cameo from Bob Saget as a powerful client, Kimmie careening down the hallway on a cart for no clear reason, and Marika responding to Kimmie’s new suit with a fabulous “Wow, someone’s going to the DMV.” Watching it is like eating a salad made in the dark by a 5-year-old—it doesn’t taste good, but on the other hand, there are M&Ms in it.
Where the show has succeeded is in giving a few of its characters room to be utterly bizarre. It’s been almost two years since Girls first debuted on HBO, and the resulting backlash prompted many television critics and fans to call for shows featuring more diverse female characters—across every metric, whether that is body type, ethnicity, or sexuality. Though Super Fun Night is a case study in how to not write a sitcom, it provided a few fascinating characters and a few touching moments. (Helen-Alice learning to play “Never Have I Ever” is one of them. Marika realizing she wanted to hang out with the cute girl at the bar instead of the guy she came with was another.) More, it said something fresh about being a young woman, caught in limbo between the hang-ups of youth and the pressing challenges of adulthood.
Unfortunately, this sitcom is stuck in essentially the same boat—somewhere between an interesting show and a terrible one. Super Fun Night, like its characters, was a bit under-prepared for the real world.
Starring: Rebel Wilson, Kevin Bishop, Liza Lapira, Lauren Ash, Kate Jenkinson
Airs: Wednesdays at 9:30 p.m. Eastern on ABC
Format: Single-camera half-hour sitcom
Full season to date watched for review