The first thing you may notice when you tune in to Sean Saves the World is that the opening music is reminiscent of ABC’s popular comedy Modern Family. Beyond that similarity, NBC’s new comedy is a throwback to the network’s nineties heyday to the extreme, complete with some familiar faces and a laugh track. It’s not doing anything new for comedy, but the series opener does have its moments.

The comedy centers around Sean (Sean Hayes), a divorced dad who recently got dumped by his boyfriend, who just began working under a new and trying boss, and who has a teenage daughter that recently moved in with him. That’s a lot of stuff going on with the plot, but NBC doesn’t stop there, also signing on Linda Lavin to play Lorna, Sean’s loud and tactless mom. There are actually a slew of familiar comedic names involved with Sean Saves the World. Reno 911! writer and actor Thomas Lennon is playing Sean’s boss, an odd fellow with an impressively thick mustache. Ben and Kate’s Echo Kellum, Chuck’s Vic Sahay, and Smash’s Megan Hilty also pop up in the pilot.

While Hayes has had a pretty successful producing career with Grimm and Hot in Cleveland, NBC has been trying to make Hayes work as a TV tour de force ever since Will & Grace went off the air, to varying degrees of success. The opener for Sean Saves the World is equally middling. Sean and Lorna are both dynamic characters, but when they are put together onscreen, they are both competing for the focus and the jokes can be trifling, although I appreciated Lavin getting the beats right and Hayes’ ability to subtly throw out some of the episode’s best lines in a snappy, offhand manner. Additionally, Sean’s relationship with his daughter, Ellie (Samantha Isler), is supposed to be the focus of the series, but it should be an afterthought, as those scenes pale in comparison to the amusing plots with Sean’s coworkers.

Sometimes it’s not enough to just have a family comedy or a workplace comedy. Some combination of the two leaves more breathing space for characters and opens the door for the writers to try out different amalgamations of jokes and see which ones really work. However, because of the setup, the premiere of Sean Saves the World is a little clunky. It has to introduce us to a full cast of characters involved with Sean’s home life and a slew of characters involved with Sean at the workplace. That’s a lot to throw together in a half hour, and these scenes bring a few more laughs than homogeneity to the episode.

Still, when Sean is central to the plot and when he’s totally in the zone, he’s quick-witted and versatile. His roles at NBC in both Up All Night and especially Smash proved to me that he has the chops to play a variety of characters and deserves the chance to be a leading man. During the Sean Saves the World premiere, watching Hayes play off Lennon’s ridiculous personality as boss man Max is incredibly entertaining and proves yet again that Hayes is really funny. Still, those are just the high points from the episode.

I have no doubt that Hayes will thrive with the right role and under the right circumstances. I also have no doubt that Sean Saves the World will end up being a passable comedy for NBC. I just hope it can shape into something more than that.

You can catch NBC’s Sean Saves the World on Thursdays at 9 p.m. ET.
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