This review covers the first episode of The Smartlys. There are 10 episodes in total. I did not watch the other episodes and cannot vouch for their content or quality, but I think the first episode succeeds at the basic function of a pilot episode: After 20 minutes, it’s pretty clear what The Smartlys is and whether it’s the kind of program worth binging. I didn’t think so, but that doesn’t mean I hated it.
On the contrary: There’s something strangely charming about the extraordinarily lo-fi nature of Shelley Smartly’s amateur attempt at creating a sitcom for herself outside of the studio system. Smartly became a stand-up comedian at age 69, and this series feels a lot like her making a dream come true, experience be damned. For audiences tuning into the show, it’s more or less an occasionally funny, extremely silly curiosity. What happens when someone with talent and no outlet does their best with the tools they’re given to make the show they’d always wanted? It looks a lot like this.
The show follows Shelley and her wild family members as they navigate a new world. See, the fictional Shelley and her husband, Eric (Eric Smartly), won $300 million playing the lottery and used it to buy a beachfront complex outside of San Diego. In their dotage, the two have chosen to invite their children to live with them — including sons Spencer (Floyd Strayer), Fetch (Dan McLellan) and 40-year old virgin Adare (Tommy Lucero). The parents’ generosity is met with scheming by their jealous kin, who connive among themselves over petty jealousies and greed.
Unlike most sitcoms, there are no traditional cameras in The Smartlys: Every scene features a character or two talking to one another in front of what seems to be a laptop camera. Sometimes they’re not even in the same shot, just two people talking in intercut close-ups off to the side. Most of the scenes play out like a thinly written version of an Abbott and Costello number, with one character playing straight and the other goofy. Almost every scene has a punchline, often reliant on a pun, or a character staring worried at the camera. And, wouldn’t you know it, sometimes the jokes are actually pretty funny.
The pilot of The Smartlys is best when its at its oddest, relying on non sequiturs and the inherent silliness of its format. I really enjoyed the way it embraces static Zoom backgrounds to establish location. Shelley Smartly’s script uses a lot of puns, and frankly they’re funnier here than when The Rock tried his hand at them in last year’s Jungle Cruise. There’s a lot of gags based on Eric’s Minnesotan accent, which play well because it’s one of the best accents in the country.
Of course, this is still an amateur production filmed on Zoom cameras. At least in the first episode, not all of the characters have great material to deliver and the actual story isn’t especially interesting. Many of the jokes simply don’t land, particularly the material involving Adare. I am sure the further nine episodes expand on the characters, and I sincerely hope audiences who find themselves intrigued by this frankly bizarre show follow the rest. I didn’t hate watching The Smartlys and have no real desire or reason to rip it to shreds: One 20-minute experience with the material is all I needed. I’m glad I took the time.
The series will run on Tubi and PlexTV in August 2022.