The show is one of eight comedy pilots that Amazon Instant funded for its new on-demand video service, and although it’s free it requires an Amazon account to view. Amazon is also hoping viewers will rate and review the pilots online, helping the company choose which deserve the full-series treatment.
“Those Who Can’t” follows steady comedy-industry interest in the Grawlix, and comes on the heels of meetings the Grawlix members had in Los Angeles last summer with networks such as FX, Adult Swim and Comedy Central.
The show is up against some heavy hitters: other candidates Amazon funded include a small-screen version of “Zombieland,” Kristen Schaal’s “Supanatural,” “The Onion Presents: The News” and “Alpha House,” written by Pulitzer Prize winner Garry Trudeau.
“Those Who Can’t” evolved out of Denver stand-ups Adam Cayton-Holland, Andrew Orvedahl and Ben Roy’s FunnyOrDie.com web series and follows three bumbling teachers at Denver’s fictional James Buchanan High School (home of the Fightin’ Tariffs). It hews close to the script Amazon published online last year and further sharpens the personas the three leads have developed in their web series.
The comedy, which was filmed late last year at Manual High School and East High School in Denver, guest stars Grawlix buddies and buzz-worthy L.A. comedians Rory Scovel, Nikki Glaser and Kyle Kinane. But it’s largely a hometown affair: it’s shot entirely here, directed by Denver filmmaking duo The Nix Bros. and produced by show runner and Denver comedy veteran Andy Juett. It’s produced in part with Image Brew, where older Nix brother Evan works, as well as the prestigious 3Arts Entertainment (“Parks and Recreation,’ “Louie,” “It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia,” etc.)
Reverb was lucky enough to get a preview of the show and walked away impressed. We figured it would at least have a baseline level of laughs and intelligence, given the reputation the Grawlix has built over the years. But we loved the slick production values, snappy acting and underlying potential to expand. If “Those Who Can’t” got picked up and became a hit, it would be the most significant fictional show to be shot and based in Denver in decades — and the first-ever sitcom to do both.
The guys didn’t just throw a bunch of money at a script, although they clearly stretched Amazon’s relatively small $50,000 production budget as far as it would go, as evidenced by the customized school uniforms and large, professional production crew. The honed jokes and effortless interplay of the three stars is the product of years of interaction at their monthly show at the Bug Theatre and stand-up stages around the city (and lately, the country).
It’s R-rated stuff, but it’s got a certain camaraderie and charm that gives it that all-important mass market potential. We could picture frustrated high school students, teachers and anyone who appreciates slyly subversive humor digging it, and could see it running next to Comedy Central hits like “Workaholics” without looking out of place. It’s sharp but not overtly mean-spirited, juvenile but clever, and above all, funny.
We won’t bore you with a full review, because part of the fun is watching it yourself, but here are a few parting observations:
* Guest star Rory Scovel practically steals the show as the crunchy-granola principal. (Bonus points for the excellent hair.)
* Adam Cayton-Holland emerges as the leading man, playing a role not unlike family-glue Michael Bluth in “Arrested Development.”
* Even though the pilot starts in medias res, we could see the series going in any number of directions, bolstering the Grawlix members’ claims that they could drop this in mid-season as a regular episode (if the series gets picked up) and not have it seem out of place.
* Denver is never specifically mentioned but the skyline is visible in a couple shots and savvy viewers will recognize the neighborhood in a scene where Ben Roy’s character (militant history teacher Ben Shoemaker) tries to score drugs to get a student in trouble.
* The supporting cast (students, other teachers, etc.) is solid throughout, pointing to the untapped talent here in the Mile High City.
* Ben Roy looks like Henry Rollins with his short-sleeved shirt and tie.
* Andrew Orvedahl gets our vote for physical-humor-victim of the episode (you’ll see what we mean).
Check it out now and let us know what you think. You can also read the original script on Amazon Studio’s website.
In the meantime, the members of the The Grawlix have been busy. This week they’re making their second appearance as a group at the Portland, Ore., Bridgetown Comedy Festival, following Cayton-Holland’s first national stand-up appearance on “Conan” in January and news of Orvedahl and Cayton-Holland’s new albums being released on May 14 by Denver’s Greater Than Collective. Ben Roy is also fronting new band post-punk Spells.