If you want to enjoy “Superior Donuts,” there are a few things you’re going to have to put up with. First and foremost, you’ll be required to deal with a control queen of a laugh track that demands hilarity at every turn. Good joke? Loud laughter. Bad joke? Louder laughter. She will not be denied, as she exerts her aural will with each new punch line.
Secondly, about those punch lines. There are many of them. This is a new CBS multi-camera sitcom, premiering after “The Big Bang Theory” on Thursday at 8:30 p.m. before moving to a Monday night perch. That means the jokes won’t just arrive; each one will ricochet around the stage set like a pinball ball in a room of bumpers. With “Superior Donuts,” you’ll need to prepare for a ribald party of one-liners, wisecracks, and snappy comebacks, including a painful bit in which a character must say “Dill Donuts” a half-dozen times before he realizes the puns in the phrase.
And thirdly, you just can’t expect to encounter living, breathing characters, at least at first. As on many multi-camera comedies, each member of the ensemble is made up of one or maybe two qualities — the dumbbell, the wise guy, the foil, etc. Sometimes, these stick figures develop more fully as the show goes on — “The Big Bang Theory,” for example, which evolved nicely across its first few months. But usually they begin and end as a set of types.
Then you might want to give “Superior Donuts” a chance. Based on a play by Tracy Letts, it’s not solely made up of CBS’s hoary sitcom trademarks, notably thick-headed dads, pushy wives, and broke girls who make bad sexual puns with caffeinated glee. That’s a plus, right?
The show revolves around a failing doughnut shop run by crusty Arthur (Judd Hirsch) in a gentrifying Chicago neighborhood. Franco (Jermaine Fowler) is a young, black graffiti artist driven to help Arthur draw new customers, despite Arthur’s resistance to Franco’s ideas, which include Sriracha doughnuts. Meanwhile, the quirky regulars hang out and banter, including grad student Maya (Anna Baryshnikov), cop Randy (Katey Sagal), and Iraqi immigrant neighbor Fawz (Maz Jobrani). It’s “Chico and the Man” from the 1970s all over again.
Yes, there are far too many struggles between Hirsch and Fowler about old values versus attention-span-impaired kids. Yawn. We get it, old guys don’t like cronuts or the idea of them. And it doesn’t help the cliché factor that a Starbucks has just moved in down the street. But still, the diversity of the cast and the topicality of the material do bring a bit of freshness and potential. Within the stale, traditional formatting, there is some spirit. That’s another plus.
“I must really trust you,” Franco says to Sagal’s Randy at one point. “I just turned my back on a Chicago cop.” Her response: “I’m not going to shoot you, I’ve got my body cam on.” Confronted with defacing public property, Franco says, “It’s not graffiti, it’s social commentary. Why is it, like, when a white dude like Banksy does it, it’s great art and when a black dude does it, it’s graffiti?” Fawz, meanwhile, has endless material about being mistaken for a terrorist. Wait until the writers catch up with the news.
Let’s see if the show can rise to the occasion of its best jokes. Perhaps “Superior Donuts” will grow into something far superior to what it is now.
Starring Judd Hirsch, Jermaine Fowler, Katey Sagal, Anna Baryshnikov, David Koechner, Maz Jobrani
On CBS, Thursday at 8:30 p.m.