The family relationship in The Crazy Ones is even more stressed. Williams plays Simon Roberts, the aging head of a powerful but sagging Chicago advertising agency, and Buffy The Vampire Slayer star Sarah Michelle Gellar is his partner and daughter, Sydney.
The seemingly perfect business match between a daffily creative father and his hard-charging, bottom-line daughter is going to pieces. Sydney’s ambitious efforts to keep the firm on top are being undercut by Simon, who, after two divorces and a stint in rehab, has lost his edge.
He’s steadily retreating into a second childhood, preferring to box with his giant Rock ’Em Sock ’Em Robots and convulse the secretaries with mugging wisecracks. Not even Sydney’s increasingly obvious anguish can get him back on track. “This is not something you do to a partner — my name is on the door,” she sharply reminds him, only to be met with a quip: “I thought it was my name twice.”
Like Sydney’s hopelessly bemused staff, you’ll find it nearly impossible to keep from laughing at Williams’ manic goofs. But this is comedy that cuts to the bone. Anyone who’s started the end game with aging parents knows it’s a story without a happy ending.
It may seem odd to see the name of a renowned dramatist like Kelley on what is, however blackly, a sitcom. But many of his shows, including Ally McBeal and Boston Legal, have been broadly streaked with comedy, and Kelley toyed with the serio-comic half-hour format in Doogie Howser, M.D.
The subtext of loss and longing, which sometimes isn’t all that sub, makes The Crazy Ones a tightrope act. But Kelley gets tremendous support from his cast. The madcap Williams has never been better, and Gellar’s performance is a magnificently winning mixture of quiet desperation, mounting rage and wistful yearning.
The pilot episode also benefits enormously from guest appearances by Gail O’Grady ( American Dreams) as an imperious McDonald’s executive and singer Kelly Clarkson playing an uproariously bawdy version of herself, trying out as a jingle singer. She’ll almost make you believe that It Ain’t the Meat, It’s the Motion was written to sell Big Macs.