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Breaking In 

A wacky-work-sitcom brain transplanted into the body of a USA-network premise.

click to enlarge A wacky-work-sitcom brain transplanted into the body of a USA-network premise
  • A wacky-work-sitcom brain transplanted into the body of a USA-network premise

It´s a premise straight out of a light, hour-long cable drama on USA. A cool college hacker (Bret Harrison, Reaper) finds himself drafted into an odd private security company: They’re hired to test security for businesses by breaking in and stealing their stuff.

It’s Leverage, it’s Burn Notice, it’s Hustle — it’s an excuse for cool dudes to do bad things and still be good guys.

But here’s the twist: Breaking In is a half-hour sitcom. Like many other comedies (The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Office), Breaking In is set in a workplace. And typically, a workplace sitcom concentrates on its hotel, newsroom or cubicle-cluttered environment.

Once the workplace sitcom gets going, however, the importance of that setting fades away. The high jinks starting coming from character instead of premise. But in Breaking In, the premise is such a crucial part of the show that it’s bound to have a curious, unprecedented effect on the show’s future. For now, it invigorates the comedy. After all, a let’s-pull-off-a-heist montage, complete with silly costumes and accents, rarely fails.

Character development, however — the lifeblood of a sitcom — is less reliable. While Bret Harrison and Christian Slater easily slip into their relaxed-straight-man and angry-smirking-boss roles, other characters — like douche-y, grating Josh and prankster-nerd Cash — are more annoying than amusing. (Once again, the extent to which TV understands nerd culture is: “They dress up like Star Wars and quote Internet catchphrases.”) Worse, the pilot seems desperate to establish every single character dynamic within one episode. Christian Slater’s character says, “I’ll allow it” three or four times in 20 minutes, pounding home the fact that, yes, this is his catchphrase. The best sitcoms (Parks and Recreation, The Office) explore characters’ nuances, their precise chemistry, over time.

Ultimately, Breaking In buzzes with the same brightly colored photography, fratty soundtrack, hyperactive punch lines, and smug-choked atmosphere as a National Lampoon movie. It’s funny for an episode but probably not sustainable. National Lampoon movies are disposable fun, but their sequels gave diminishing returns. That’s the concern here: Nobody wants to watch Breaking In: The Rise of Taj.

(Wednesdays, 9:30pm, FOX)


TIVO-WORTHY

Mobbed
It’s been years since the fading of the flash mob fad — in which hundreds of people suddenly converge for a single, silly purpose — but that hasn’t stopped Howie Mandel. Horrifyingly, in this reality show, Mandel creates massive, choreographed flash mobs to help people announce big news in a big way. Note for any future women in my life: If you need to propose, or announce you’re pregnant, or announce you’re proposing because you’re pregnant, please never involve Howie Mandel. (Thursdays, 9 pm, Fox)

The Kennedys
Joel Surnow (producer of The Kennedys and 24) is usually about as subtle with his conservative political beliefs as Jack Bauer’s fist against a terrorist’s face. So don’t expect this eight-part John F. Kennedy miniseries to be accurate or fair, or to have a speechifying spark approaching The West Wing. But you can at least expect it to be lively, considering that political pressure kept this off the History Channel. (Sunday, 8 pm, Reelz)

The Killing
This story of the murder of a young girl and the subsequent police investigation is actually an adaptation of a Danish miniseries. The weird thing? It’s an FX drama with a female lead. (Sundays, 9 pm, AMC)

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