Breaking In - "The Contra Club"

Breaking In - "The Contra Club"

When Breaking In got an eleventh hour reprieve that gave it a miraculous second season pickup, it was clear that some serious retooling was in store. Christian Slater has bounced around on several different one-season wonders in the past few years, so it was inevitable that he’d get lucky and score a second season, and with the pilot’s co-lead Bret Harrison it looked like this could be a simplistically ridiculous workplace comedy in the vein of Harrison’s other short-lived show on FOX, The Loop. But Odette Annable and Michael Rosenbaum's characters, a major employee of Slater’s security firm and a strangely ever-present boyfriend, won’t be regulars in this thirteen-episode season, which removes the love interest angle for Harrison’s character entirely.  Since that typical sitcom trope was a focus of those first seven episodes, that leaves the show in need of a totally new plot direction.

That’s why this second season premiere doesn’t feel like a continuation as much as a total re-launch of the show, with a trimmed cast and a new premise. Melanie’s overzealous douche of a boyfriend is gone — arrested for selling clean urine — but so is Trevor Moore’s “master of disguise” Josh, who was reliably funny in the truncated first season. Tonight’s premiere tries to pass Harrison, Annable, and Alphonso McAuley as a friendly trio who work closely with each other, despite not employing that structure in the first season, and seemingly no intent to use it for the rest of this one.

The highly touted addition is in-demand guest star Megan Mullally as a series regular. She’s introduced as a hapless and overbearing temp receptionist, but slowly revealed to be the VP of Acquisitions for a corporation locked in negotiations to buy Contra from Oz. By the end of the episode, Mullally is in charge, with her scrambling British executive assistant in tow, which essentially cuts Christian Slater’s legs out from under him. In the first season, he struck the right balance of witty and mysterious boss for a security firm, giving the impression that he was some kind of secret agent or ex-CIA instead of just a tech guru. Presumably now there will be some sort of power struggle as he works more as a member of the team, and becomes more of a mentor to Harrison’s ingénue Cameron.

Originally, Breaking In was the story of Cameron, a college slacker-hacker who gets plucked from his stagnant life to be the computer genius member of Oz’s security team, breaking into clients’ systems to expose flaws. The mentor-mentee relationship yielded some funny moments, Cameron bonded with McAuley’s character as they pulled pranks and exposed various levels geekery, and Annable proved a fine if unimaginative romantic interest. Those laughs are fewer and further between in this second season premiere, mostly coming from Mullally doing a poorer defined version of the “out there” performance she’s given on every show from Parks and Rec to Happy Endings to Children’s Hospital.

One of the short pitches I heard about Breaking In was that it would be The Office meets The A-Team, which it an admirable goal, but the show doesn’t even come close to reaching it. It has a much smaller ensemble than The Office, something closer to Scrubs, and an unrelatable workplace setting, strangely injecting some elements of Chuck into what could be a single-camera version of The IT Crowd. The show doesn’t have the budget to do action sequences like The A-Team, nor the comedic chops to pull of the workplace situations of The Office, so it’s stuck in a middle-ground where zany antics and quippy one-liners are the only ways to get laughs. Better Off Ted is probably the best short-lived example of how to do this premise right, and perhaps with a little time Breaking In could follow in the footsteps of Happy Endings and do for the workplace sitcom what that show is doing for the hangout comedy. As it stands now, however, the reboot leaves Breaking In with no real identity, and the pressure of reestablishing the groundwork that will allow it to move forward with jobs that will create workplace humor as well as low-budget action.

Stray observations:

  • I was rather fond of The Loop, which is now streaming at various sites around the Internet. I liked the single-camera setup and good use of Chicago as a location, and it struck the same authenticity balance that Happy Endings currently gets right about the city.
  • Oz is the most darkly comic yet endearing character Christian Slater has played since Heathers. I love that movie dearly, and as such I appreciated a lot of Slater’s work in the first season, doling out advice to Cameron and caring for Melanie like a daughter. Now, with the show changing directions, I’m worried that Slater will get little to do and this will just become the Megan Mullally Show.    

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