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Trio of Likable Performers Elevate Generic Pivoting on FOX

Sometimes a comedy is more about casting than anything else. The truth is that writing can always shift to match performers, but a bad ensemble usually isn’t going to ever find the right rhythm. The art of comedy is all about timing and chemistry, and writers can’t fix that when a casting agent got it wrong. This is why we see so many shows that stumble out of the gate but click when the writers room figures out how to maximize the talent in front of the camera. (Look at the first seasons of “30 Rock” and “Parks and Recreation” for great examples of writers shifting to play to the strengths of their cast.) So, I’m forgiving of the somewhat mediocre first episodes of FOX’s “Pivoting,” a new comedy that clearly wants to be a network version of “Sex and the City,” a show about female friends stumbling their way through life. While the writing is inconsistent, the trio of actresses are incredibly likable, already convincingly selling both their friendships and individual characters. I’m curious enough to see where they go, and just hoping that the writers figure out where to take them.

“Pivoting” starts with a death. The fourth member of a group of friends has left them forever, sending them into the spiral of questions that often come with grief. There’s no more time to waste when your friend dies. People often find themselves inspired to finally check those items off the list of life that they’ve been procrastinating for years. Sometimes these decisions look strange to others, and may not always be the right ones, but “Pivoting” works from those emotional days when death of a loved one can make people leap before they look.

For example, Sarah (the charming Maggie Q) leaves her life behind as a successful M.D. to completely shift her career, going from the pressure of emergency rooms to what she thinks will be a simpler, happier life as a grocery store employee. None of this registers as remotely believable, but I’m hopeful that the writing will play with expectations that there’s such a thing as an “easy” job. Sure, being a life-saving doctor has a different level of stress, but people on their feet all day at grocery stores, especially during the pandemic, aren’t exactly coasting through life. Most of all, Maggie Q sells the unbelievable arc as best she can, especially in a second episode when she realizes her new co-workers kind of hate her.

Amy (Eliza Coupe) uses the tragedy to commit more fully to her role as a mother. In a way that’s kind of refreshing for sitcom television, Amy is what could be called a reticent mother to her seven-year-old boy and 18-month-old girl. We all want to believe that just having kids kicks in all kind of parental instincts, but that’s not always true. Her pivot is to be more present for her family, even though she kind of hates them.

Jodie (Ginnifer Goodwin) gets the most traditional pivot as she realizes she’s in a loveless marriage and starts flirting with her hot trainer Matt (J.T. Neal). Again, the writing here is a bit clichéd and thin, forcing the always-game Goodwin into some embarrassing flirtation scenes, but she does her best to sell them.

It’s hard to tell where “Pivoting” goes if it connects with audiences enough and runs for a few years, but I’m hopeful that it can move away from its set-up and really focus on the friendship between these three characters. Coupe was very funny on “Happy Endings”; Maggie Q is a more versatile actress than she’s been given credit for in the past; Goodwin is simply always fun to watch. The cast is there. Now let’s pivot to giving them something funny and believable to do.

Two episodes screened for review. The comedy premieres on Sunday, January 9th, after football on FOX.

Brian Tallerico

Brian Tallerico is the Editor of RogerEbert.com, and also covers television, film, Blu-ray, and video games. He is also a writer for Vulture, The Playlist, The New York Times, and Rolling Stone, and the President of the Chicago Film Critics Association.

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