With scene-stealing roles in box office hits Bridesmaids and Pitch Perfect, Rebel Wilson has earned the status of Hollywood’s newest It Girl. One might think it’s a surprising role for the Australian actress, but given her comedic sensibilities as well as the success of her predecessors — namely, self-depreciating humorists like Tina Fey and the unconventionally endearing Mindy Kaling and Melissa McCarthy — it’s not a shock. So Wilson has a lot of expectations to meet with her new ABC comedy, Super Fun Night, which premieres tonight to already-mixed reviews. The buzz surrounding Wilson has set the bar very high, but even so she looks to be destined to reach it.
And it’s been shaky so far: the pilot episode, which was made available to critics over the summer, was widely panned. It was the pilot that was the source of the show’s trailer, which did not give the sense that it would be any good or at all funny. ABC paid attention to the criticism, which is why tonight’s premiere episode is actually the series’ second. It’s not a big scandal — pilot episodes can typically be pretty spotty and not entirely fully formed — and while Super Fun Night‘s second episode isn’t perfect, it demonstrates that the show not only has promise, but that Rebel Wilson can handle leading a series, rather than being the supporting comic relief.
In the show, Wilson plays Kimmie Boubier, a New York City lawyer who, of course, can’t quite manage to get her personal life on par with her professional one. She’s awkward and clumsy, has a not-so-unrequited crush on her coworker, a British guy named Richard, and finds an immediate rival in a fellow lawyer, a competitive and stick-thin blonde named Kendall. Her best friends and roommates, Helen-Alice and Felicity, are as weird and brash as she is, so she’s in surprisingly good company. It’s worth noting that despite the show’s insistence on making her seem like a total weirdo loser, Kimmie is pretty well-adjusted.
That’s perhaps the show’s biggest flaw. (That and Rebel Wilson’s poor American accent. There are Australians in New York; let her be one!) Women in comedy — well, most people in comedy — are depicted as unwieldy, manic creatures, great at their jobs but unfortunately unable to function in their personal lives. But clearly people like Rebel Wilson, Mindy Kaling, and Tina Fey are accomplished, confident, and socially adept. Why can’t the fictional characters they base on themselves reflect that? Part of it is because there’s a need for a flawed central character, but TV’s gendered answer to the male antihero is the female crazy-monster: cute and charming, yet overwhelmingly self-effacing and self-pitying.
The fact is, Kimmie Boubier is a pretty great, strong woman, but the show makes her the butt of every joke. Kimmie runs across the office to get jelly donuts. Kimmie has stage fright that induces fainting and incontinence. Kimmie pines for the adorable co-worker who so clearly likes her back, despite her blindness to his tenderness. It’d be nice, for a change, to see a central female protagonist be as sure of herself as we are of her, although one supposes that such hubris would make the woman unlikeable to her audience. (Mindy Kaling’s Mindy Project character is the closest we’ve seen to this, and she has indeed faced those accusations.)
Still, Super Fun Night has the potential to be the first show to allow its female protagonist learn how awesome she actually is. The self-deprecating jokes are funny and endearing, but it’d be nice to see Rebel Wilson recognize her talent and abilities in Kimmie as much as she does in real life. After all, it’s rare for a 27-year-old woman to create and star in her own television show on a major American network. While the odds might be against her as a woman (and a plus-sized one at that), she’s clearly doing something right. For Super Fun Night to really succeed, it needs to break the Liz Lemon mold. The famed Mary Richards, after all, didn’t exude the self-effacing qualities of these modern-day professional female characters, and that’s what made The Mary Tyler Moore such a resounding success. It’s quite possible for Kimmie — and Rebel — to live up to those standards.