Why Rebel Wilson Will Survive Even If Super Fun Night Flops

The show, which debuts locally tonight, hasn't had the brightest start overseas. But does it matter?

First, the bad news: Super Fun Night, the new sitcom from Aussie star Rebel Wilson, isn’t great. In fact at times, it’s only a little better than mildly amusing. And while it’s not as depressingly dire as some of this season’s other new American sitcoms — we’re looking at you, We Are Men and The Millers — having viewed two episodes, at this stage it’s a little cartoonish and the laughs come too infrequently. There is clearly some tinkering to be done if it’s to survive in the medium to long term.

Here’s the rub, though: even if, as some are predicting, Super Fun Night is written off as a flop, the ascendant career of Rebel Wilson won’t be negatively impacted. There’s one reason for this: Rebel Wilson is easily the best thing about the show, and watching her makes you hope that the show can and will get better.

A difficult debut

When TV host Conan O’Brien, who is an executive producer on the series, first took Rebel under his wing following an appearance on his show while promoting her role in Bridesmaids, the first thing he noticed was her “authenticity.” But from what we know about US free-to-air sitcoms, the system will be working against Wilson to bland down her naturally outlandish comedic tendencies to appease her network bosses.

The pilot was originally created back in 2011, and Wilson says that ABC asked for “tamer, less extreme characters.” However, she’s undoubtedly fought hard to ensure the show maintains some semblance of edge. In the first two episodes, there are at least four eccentric, awkward scenes that wouldn’t have made it into most sitcoms. This is a good thing.

The show’s Australian premiere tonight on Channel Nine an interesting test for the series. Last Wednesday, Super Fun Night’s second episode aired on the American network ABC and averaged a modest 6.67 million viewers, down from the more impressive series premiere figures of 8.2 million viewers. Likewise, the reviews abroad have been relatively kind, but pointed. New York Times TV doyen Alessandra Stanley described it as “more daring than funny”, before noting that more than one joke about Spanx in one episode is too many. Meanwhile, in The AV Club’s review of the episode, Todd VanDerWerff gave it a C, saying “Is it a bad television show? Not really. But it also feels like an unformed television show, at least right now.”

Wasted opportunities?

Super Fun Night is hooked around Wilson’s character, the unfortunately named Kimmie Boubier (yep, pronounced ‘boobee-ay’). Kimmie — who in one of the show’s leap of faiths is a lawyer — and her two sitcom-quirky friends decide they have had enough of mundane Friday nights. They resolve to come together each week to do something both fun and out of their comfort zones.

The uneven premiere episode is particularly notable for the appearance of Rebel’s Bridesmaids roommate Matt Lucas, an OTT karaoke sing-off, and the promising charisma between Wilson and her co-star Kevin Bishop, who plays her colleague and number one crush, Richard. While Wilson’s American accent is solid enough, most Australians will probably query why she is not speaking in her native drawl. After all, as others have pointed out, her colleague Bishop is given free rein with his very British intonations.

Also, somewhat wasted in the episode is fellow Australian (and Rebel’s former The Wedge co-star), Kate Jenkinson, who plays her office arch-rival, Kendall. Jenkinson was last seen on our screens playing the late Patrick Reid’s sister, Kate, on Offspring. She too speaks with an American accent, but more disappointingly is lumbered with a one-dimensional character.

Endless potential

Wilson’s own trajectory is certainly something to behold. She was initially intended to be one of the subjects featured in the excellent ABC1 docu-reality series, Next Stop Hollywood, that screened last summer. However, the former Sydney-sider swiftly moved past other contenders in the production, and was ultimately deemed too far advanced in her career to be included.

Eyebrows were raised when Wilson was featured on the cover of the prestigious New York Magazine last month, becoming the first female comedian and/or TV star to make the mag’s highly-coveted front page since Mindy Kaling landed the spot to mark the debut of The Mindy Project twelve months ago. Coincidentally, Mindy’s series is having its own ratings issues.

In the flattering cover story, Wilson was mostly sanguine about Super Fun Night’s prospects and her ability to influence it creatively. “Super Fun Night may not work,” she said. “But I will have to try. I will not be able to ease off the accelerator until they start to get who Kimmie is.”

It’s an admirable stand, and one that will be tested over the next twelve months.

Super Fun Night premieres on Channel Nine at 8pm tonight.

Andrew Murfett is a Melbourne-born writer and editor based in Miami. He has written for The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald, The West Australian, Faster Louder, Crikey and AAP. You can read more musings @amurfett