Almost two decades ago, the (fake) sitcom “Step Right Up” charmed audiences with its cheerful story about a mother (Judy Greer‘s Bree Marie Jansen), a son (Calum Worthy‘s Zack Jackson), and two father figures (Keegan-Michael Keys Reed Sterling and Johnny Knoxville‘s Caleb). The show is now being brought back to Hulu by Hannah (Rachel Bloom), who want to reimagine it as having more serious character arcs and more reflective of current times with global warming jokes, etc. She’s getting the green light from Hulu (their pat on the back in the show’s meta moments is limited) and the original cast is coming back , excited about the new script and its possibility. But she faces her first biggest challenge with the original showrunner, Gordon (Paul Reiser) – revealed at the end of episode 1 to have a longer connection (or lack thereof) with her, which reflected the entire show. For people in front of and behind the cameras, the new “Step Right Up” has something personal at stake.
Casting adds a great deal to the levity of “Reboot,” and as a fan of all the leads, I found it very watchable, if not a little exciting, to see these actors play 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 when the cameras are rolling, despite navigating a laundry list of frustrations from her co-stars (her old flame, especially Reed), personal satisfaction and even the sexism towards women her age in the industry. Starring in the fake show, Key sees the genuine hubris of an actor (“She couldn’t even internalize her primal 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’s not just the dangerous bad boy he used to be and plays on the show, but has to stop it acts for its image. (He has a way with a serious line that’s equal parts funny and sad: “I need a place to go during the day or bad shit will find me.”) And Worthy is a consistently entertaining product from the children’s acting industry, never getting what’s really going on (because: young), but having loads of forgettable past blockbusters to name-drop while everyone on set mistakes him for a PA.
The new “Step Right Up” gets a new character with Timberly (Alyah Chanelle Scott), a seasoned addition to the fake cast as she seems like a bad actor but is also much smarter than she presents – she was on a reality series, which is called “F*ckboy Mountain” after all. Timberly has her own entertaining game in this industry of long-term professionals, not only playing into her youthful nature. It’s all made possible by such 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” also underplays Scott (she’s not even on the official poster).