This article previously appeared on Crossfader.
In this Crossfader series, our intricate and complex rating system will tell you definitively whether new television pilots are worth your valuable time. We call it: HIT OR SH**.
Friends and readers, I have a confession to make… I went against the grain and watched not one episode of THE GUEST BOOK, as the format of this section dictates, but two. I know, I know, it’s high time I was run out of town, but a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do, and when TBS makes it nigh impossible to access their content through avenues your mother wouldn’t frown at, a man’s gotta strike when the iron’s hot. In any case, now that TBS is in the limelight due to the critically lauded SEARCH PARTY, they needed a follow-up, and a stronger one than PEOPLE OF EARTH, at that. Luckily, that follow-up is easily found in THE GUEST BOOK. Riding high off of the cameo-favoring aspects of its format and funny throughout, THE GUEST BOOK is a refreshing break from the increasing dourness of prestige television and the relentless non-jokes of network sitcom revivalism.
THE GUEST BOOK is an anthology of sorts, although its main plotline seems to hint that it’ll be making progressively longer strides into the more episodic nature of individual episodes. In general, the titular guest book contains the account of each guest that stayed in Froggy Cottage. Wilfred (Charlie Robinson) and Emma (Aloma Wright) own a cottage getaway in the remote town of Mount Trace. In our pilot, Tim (Danny Pudi) and Sandy (Lauren Lapkus) take some time away from their newborn baby in the hopes of rekindling their romance—or, at least Tim hopes so. When Sandy makes it clear she’s far more into recuperating on her own terms (lots and lots of wine), Tim makes his way to a nearby strip club, where Vivian (Carly Jibson) gives him the full foot special after a misunderstanding. A little shaken, but not entirely displeased, Tim attempts to return home, only to be stopped by Frank (Lou Wilson), Vivian’s stepson, who videotaped the whole thing. Now Tim must wriggle his way out of blackmail and podiatric infidelity.
The most important part of any comedy is if it’s actually funny, and thankfully, THE GUEST BOOK is one of the few modern show examples I can think of that delivers its humor in clear, identifiable bursts. No weird, subtle, quirkiness of dialogue that’s supposed to keep the ship afloat, no ham-fisted attempts at jokes, just no-frills situational comedy that’s built off of the economical character development. And thankfully, no sole reliance on excessive vulgarity to donkey punch guffaws out of you (*cough* most HBO comedies *cough*). In addition, while my campaign isn’t against the trope in general, it’s nice to have unadulterated escapism every once in awhile, and THE GUEST BOOK doesn’t make any attempts to sprinkle a layer of emotional vulnerability over its head. It’s not that the characters are flat or paper thin—in fact, the show’s humorous core is based around their conflicting wants, needs, desires—but rather, they’re all straightforward ones that don’t put on airs in terms of existential malaise, sidestepping the decidedly unfunny nature of other “comedies” such as GIRLS and TRANSPARENT.
That being said, the pilot to THE GUEST BOOK deserves a rap on the wrist for its rather reductive portrayal of Tim and Sandy’s relationship and Sandy’s character. As individual actors it’s nice to see both Pudi and Lapkus operating outside of their normal wheelhouse (especially Pudi as the direct opposite of the entirely sexless Abed from COMMUNITY), but Sandy alternates too viscerally between screeching shrew and wine horny. It’s really hard to tell why Tim stays married to her when their relationship seems almost entirely loveless, and it’s also difficult to see why we weren’t made to sympathize with Sandy more considering the fact that Tim shirks on his fatherhood duties. But hey, we only have to deal with them for the pilot, and for the short time they’re present we can still enjoy seeing them try to evade the schemes Vivian and Frank.
I guess I’m also into Lauren Lapkus now
Vivian and Frank is the aspect of THE GUEST BOOK that will ultimately make or break the show, and since I’ve cheated the format a bit, I can assure you that it doesn’t break. As different characters come in and out of Froggy Cottage, the plot continues to thicken as the duo’s schemes go progressively more and more astray, the episodic cameos furthering the conflict in the overarching main narrative. It’s an example of solid writing that manages to do something comparatively unique with the culturally revitalized anthology format, and does a nice job of keeping us continually invested in watching due to our growing understanding of the strip club brood. Also, shout outs to Lou Wilson! Having long seen him at the numerous improv shows my girlfriend drags me too, I gotta say, I love the man and hope to see him in much more.
I know you’ve got a lot to watch, and I acknowledge that TBS probably isn’t at the top of the list. (Although really, TBS, just throw us a bone and let us watch the pilots to your lineup!) But give THE GUEST BOOK a chance! It’s a nice, breezy break from the onslaught of modern television, always exits cool and clean at a lean 20-something-minute runtime, and will make you laugh. What more do you want?
THE GUEST BOOK airs on Thursdays on TBS