Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Billie and Gene find some common ground in Edward Norton on Idiotsitter

Illustration for article titled Billie and Gene find some common ground in Edward Norton on Idiotsitter

In an interview with Splitsider, Charlotte Newhouse likened the tone of Idiotsitter to The Nanny, Mr. Belvedere, and Diff’rent Strokes—sitcoms of the 80s (and early 90s). Structurally, Idiotsitter definitely does seem a lot closer to those shows than to its Comedy Central pals Broad City and Workaholics. Idiotsitter, indeed, is much more plot-driven than Broad City, which loosely follows the typical sitcom path but also lets its characters meander down strange tangents and focuses much more on the relationship between Abbi and Ilana as opposed to what they’re actually doing. Being plot-driven isn’t a bad thing, but Idiotsitter is sometimes trapped by the conventional nature of its premise.

It’s easy to see where “Book Report” is going, because it’s easy to see where Idiotsitter is going in the long-term. Billie is going to teach Gene to be a little more like Billie, and Gene is going to teach Billie to be a little more like Gene. By the end of “Book Report,” Gene likes to read. Albeit, she likes to just read a little bit of a bunch of books and then weave them all together in a sort of fanfiction in her head, but hey, she likes reading, and that’s good enough for Billie.

There are moments when Idiotsitter briefly transcends the boxes it has created for its characters, and those are always its most engaging and funny bits. Right now, Idiotsitter is coasting on the chemistry between Newhouse and Jillian Bell. The two play off each other so well, and even when the writing is predictable, Newhouse and Bell fill every interaction with enough surprises in their physicality and delivery that it’s still very fun to watch. Bell’s delivery of “pack your stuff?” gets funnier each time she says it.

It’s no surprise then that Idiotsitter is at its best when its leads are working together. Billie and Gene don’t exactly need to be on the same exact page. Even when they’re fighting with each other, there’s a collaborative feel to it. “Book Report”’s finest scene happens in the middle of the episode, when Billie and Gene spew oddly specific movie-inspired disses at each other. It’s weird and funny and doesn’t betray the show’s quippy tone or the dynamic between these characters. There’s a similar feeling in a later scene in Billie’s guest house, when Gene temporarily snaps out of her plan to sabotage Billie because she’s derailed by their shared love for Edward Norton and American History X. Billie and Gene in agreement yields the best results, even if they’re just agreeing that they hate each other.

The dinner table scene also brings to light some of what’s beneath the surface in both Billie and Gene. Both seem to share an insecurity of wanting to be liked: Billie immediately insists that people like her when Gene says no one does, and Gene is visibly hurt when Billie says her dad has to pay people to hang out with her. Billie and Gene both appear friendless (Chet barely counts for Gene), and even though Idiotsitter doesn’t really seem like the kind of show that is going to delve too deeply into its characters’ psyches, every time the show does touch on the emotions of its characters, Idiotsitter is lifted out of its rigid premise. In “Book Report,” there are shades of the kind of high-concept comedy Newhouse was referencing when she brought up those 80s sitcoms as well as shades of the kind of zippy, wild humor that makes Broad City and Workaholics fun. If Idiotsitter can find the right balance between those elements—and it’s not quite there yet—then it’ll start to stand out more.

I stand by what I said last week about Chet: The character is already very annoying and very pointless. At least in “Book Report,” there’s a bit of payoff when it becomes clear that his crush means Billie can get him to do whatever she wants. Chet’s boundary issues and obsessive behavior don’t lead to many laughs, but the swiftness with which he leaves when Billie says “Chet leave” is funny. Chet’s presence only really seems worth it when he’s being exploited by Billie. But this brings me to the overall point that Idiotsitter’s characters outside of Billie and Gene are not really working that well. Most of the Tanzy humor, so far, isn’t really landing for me (other than the line “I’m finding out what kind of bird I would kill if I were a jaguar,” which is excellent). Stephen Root is almost always a very captivating actor in everything he does, but this particular character just isn’t adding a whole lot to the world. Billie coaching him to discipline Gene is funny enough, but there’s still a sense that while so much effort has gone into creating Billie, Gene, and the world they occupy, the other people that inhabit that world just exist for easy jokes here and there.


Stray observations

  • The Grapes Gatsby, starring Leo DiCaps, old Spider-Man, and Borat’s wife
  • I would probably (definitely) watch Major Consequences starring Zack and Cody.
  • “Huckleberry’s my jam.”
  • “I can’t die! I’ve never been to France!”
  • “All dicks welcome here? That’s not true.”
  • “Like a shorts bubble?”