Samantha Isler and Sean Hayes play daughter and father.

Sean Saves the World

NBC, Thursdays 9/8 Central

Oct 03, 2013 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

Sean (Sean Hayes), a Chicago manager at an online retail company, is gay and years-divorced from the mother of their 14-year-old daughter, Ellie (Samantha Isler). He's recently taken on full-time custody of Ellie as a result of her mom accepting a primo job in another city.  Numerous TV comedies over the years have explored the complications of raising a teenage daughter from the perspective of the single dad, but not so much the single gay dad. While that twist might seem ripe for comedy in a 25-word pitch, it appears that the creative minds behind Sean Saves the World don't know exactly what to do with it.

The problem is that Sean being gay is the only modern contrivance in a show that otherwise feels familiar and somewhat old-fashioned. It's good for some jokes here and there, but otherwise the show's conflicts and resolutions would function just the same if Sean were straight. It's possible that that might be the point. Perhaps it's only incidental that Sean is gay, but it's too tough to tell this early.

In the pilot episode, airing tonight, Sean intends to go the extra mile to give Ellie a sense of stability and prove to her that she's his number one priority. That plan goes awry when Sean's stern, humorless, socially inept new boss, Max (Thomas Lennon), informs the staff that he expects extra-long hours from them. In the episode "Busted," Sean has to decide who will take Ellie shopping for her first bra, either his salty mom, Lorna (Linda Lavin), or his immodest friend and co-worker, Liz (Megan Hilty). He's afraid of offending one by choosing the other.

Hayes, best known for his role as Jack McFarland on Will & Grace, is an expert at maximizing the awkward moment and great at slapstick, physical humor, and fast-paced delivery. He played Jerry Lewis in the 2002 TV movie Martin and Lewis and was uncanny as Larry in last year's The Three Stooges from the Farrelly brothers. His comedic strengths—along with the affability of his devoted dad character—make Sean Saves the World palatable but also reinforce its old-school sensibility. Once in a while, the humor gets suggestive and a tad risqué but nowhere near to the extent of shows such as How I Met Your Mother or Two and a Half Men. Not that Sean Saves the World should go that directionit shouldn't, it's more of a kindhearted family showbut it does need some kind of edge.

Over the course of a couple episodes, we learn through conversations that Sean had struggled with being gay and had been in denial about it, which explains his marriage to a woman and fathering a child with her. The divorce happened shortly after Ellie's birth. Liz, who met Sean by working as a caterer at his wedding, outed him there after a few hours of observation. In the "Busted" episode, when Lorna and Liz are trying to out-position each other in the Ellie bra-shopping conflict, Lorna objects, "She's inserting herself into Ellie's life the way she inserted herself into your wedding. How dare you tell me my son is gay on the one day I'm trying to pretend I don't know." It's moments like these when viewers might wonder if the show's creators chose to explore the wrong part of Sean's timeline. (

Author rating: 6/10

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