Nearly two decades ago, the (fake) sitcom “Step Right Up” charmed audiences with its cheery story of a mother (Judy Greer’s Bree Marie Jansen), a son (Calum Worthy’s Zack Jackson), and two father figures (Keegan-Michael Key’s Reed Sterling and Johnny Knoxville’s Caleb). The show is now being brought back to Hulu by Hannah (Rachel Bloom), who wants to reimagine it as having more serious character arcs, and more reflective of current times with jokes about global warming, etc. She gets the green light from Hulu (their back-patting in the series’ meta moments is limited), and the original cast comes back, excited about the new script and its possibility. But she faces her first greatest challenge with the original showrunner, Gordon (Paul Reiser)—revealed at the end of episode one to have a longer connection (or lack thereof) with her, which was reflective of the entire show. For people in front of and behind the cameras, the new “Step Right Up” has something personal on the line.
Casting adds a great deal to the ease of “Reboot,” and as a fan of all the leads, I found it to be very watchable, if not a bit exciting to see these actors play with parts that let them riff on the industry. Greer has a lot of fun with the way she has to present herself as extra social and happy whenever the cameras are rolling, despite navigating a list of frustrations from her co-stars (her old flame, Reed especially), personal satisfactions, and even the sexism to women of her age in the business. Playing the fake show’s lead, Key nails the sincere haughtiness of an actor (“She couldn’t even internalize her primary intentions!”) who is classically trained and needs this role to not make him look like a joke. It’s a welcome surprise to see Knoxville in such a role, but he handles the surprising layers to Clay well, starting with how he isn’t just the dangerous bad boy he used to be and plays on the show, but needs to keep up that act for his image. (He has a good way with a serious line that’s equally a little funny and sad: “I need somewhere to go during the day or bad shit finds me.”) And Worthy is an always amusing product of the child acting industry, never getting what’s truly going on (because: young) but having plenty of forgettable previous blockbusters to name-drop, while everyone on set confuses him for a PA.
The new “Step Right Up” is given a new character with Timberly (Alyah Chanelle Scott), a savvy addition to the fake cast given how she seems like a bad actor, but also is much more clever than she presents—she was on a reality series called “F*ckboy Mountain” after all. Timberly has her own amusing gamesmanship in this business of longer-term professionals, without only playing into her youthful nature. It’s all made possible by such an all-around smart performance from Scott. But the crowded space of “Reboot” doesn’t leave enough room for her, and her plotline feels neglected in the later episodes. It doesn’t seem like a meta note that “Reboot” underestimates Scott, too (she’s not even on the official poster).
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