The producers and stars of the new Fox comedy “Welcome to Flatch” insist they love small towns and the people who live in them. And that they’d never, ever do anything to make fun of them.
Well, I’m calling B.S. on that. The whole foundation of “Flatch” is making fun of the people who live in small towns. The premise is that a documentary film crew goes to this very small Ohio town and discovers the local yokels acting like idiots because there’s nothing to do there. Except go to the scarecrow festival. Enter the skillet-throwing contest. Fight with a pig farmer. And fight to protect the town’s one historic landmark — an outhouse.
It’s difficult, if not impossible, to reconcile what’s in the show with what creator/executive producer Jennie Bicks (”Sex and the City,” “Divorce”) said about the show.
“To me, people in small towns represent what we all should be aiming for,” she told TV critics in an online press conference. “I mean, the humanity of a small town and the empathy needed to live in a small town is what [executive producer/director] Paul [Feig] and I really wanted to capture. So I was not going to do it if there was going to be any kind of making fun.”
Don’t get me wrong. “Welcome to Flatch” is a rather amusing sitcom. It’ll make you smile, and there are laugh-out-loud moments.
But it definitely makes fun of the people who live in small towns, depicting them as far less sophisticated — and maybe not as smart — as city dwellers.
The series opens with an onscreen graphic telling viewers, “Recent studies show that Americans long for a simpler life in small towns. To explore these communities, Fox sent a documentary crew to spend time with the citizens of Flatch, Ohio. Population 1,526.”
That’s about the size of Utah towns like Duchesne, East Carbon, Genola, Moroni and Woodland Hills. And chances are residents of those towns would take offense if a real documentary about them included one of their residents saying this: “We are an upstanding town and we deserve some damn attention,” says Big Mandy (Krystal Smith). “We got TWO restaurants — one with menus. And last year someone gave birth to twins, so now we got young people all over the place.”
That’s funny. But it’s like seeing the ghost of Mr. Haney from the 1965-71 sitcom “Green Acres.” Can Arnold the pig be far behind? Oh, yeah, there is a pig in the first episode.
“Welcome to Flatch” — which is based on the Brit-com “This Country” — revolves around cousins Kelly Mallet (Holmes) and Lloyd “Shrub” Mallet (Sam Straley), who are sort of aimlessly bored with their small-town lives. In Thursday’s premiere, Kelly is obsessed with that skillet-throwing competition at the scarecrow festival.
“I think it came from, like, when the pioneer ladies would throw things at their kids,” she says. “Wait — or the Indians. You can look it up.”
Kelly and Shrub are both depressed about their lack of love lives. “The problem is there are, like, no people in this town to get crushes on,” Kelly says. Shrub argues that one local girl is “objectively foxy” — she really isn’t — and adds that the “next closest girl” he matched with on a dating app “was in Indiana.”
They’ve both had some trauma in their lives, but there’s no denying they often act like idiots. Joseph “Father Joe” Binghoffer (Seann William Scott), who recently moved from Minneapolis to take over the local protestant church in Flatch, tries — with little success — to rein them in.
Father Joe’s former girlfriend, Cheryl (Aya Cash), gave up her job at the Minneapolis Star-Tribune to follow him. “Joe got God, and apparently Tinder,” Cheryl says. “And, you know, I got my own newspaper.” She’s now the editor of the Flatch Eagle, circulation 535, and she is not happy.
The other primary characters include Mickey St. Jean (Justin Linville), who REALLY wants to be Shrub’s friend. “We are not friends,” Shrub says. “He is just the only person in town with a working Playstation.”
And Kelly’s frenemy Nadine Garcia-Parney (Taylor Ortega), runs the Flatch historical society and guards that outhouse. “Just to think — one whole town just started with one little hole,” she says. “It gives me chills to think about it.”
Bicks, Feig and their writing staff clearly have affection for these characters. And not only did “Parks and Rec” — a truly great show — also make fun of small towns and small towners, but comedies set in big cities make fun of people who live there.
However, their producers didn’t deny what they were doing. I mean, the producers of “What We Do In the Shadows” don’t deny they’re making fun of horror tropes to keep from being accused of being prejudiced against vampire-Americans.
Feig, who grew up in a small town in Michigan and “just knew I had to get out of there,” said he really likes “to try to show the places and the people that don’t normally get shown in movies and TV.” And he added that in this new sitcom, “We get to do it in such a fun way and such a loving way, but really get to explore some really fun characters.”
That’s fair. And you can love characters and make fun of them at the same time.
It’s just kind of weird when you don’t recognize that you’re making fun of them.
“Welcome to Flatch” premieres Thursday at 8:30 p.m. on Fox/Ch. 13. Also on Thursday, the first seven episodes will be available on Hulu, Fox Now and on demand.