Review of “Sprung”: Martha Plimpton’s Freevee Sitcom Is Excellent Garcia, Gregg
Plimpton and Garret Dillahunt, who worked together on “Raising Hope,” rejoin in Garcia’s comedy about ex-cons who commit crimes early in the COVID pandemic for the right reasons.
In the sixth episode of Greg Garcia’s new Freevee comedy Sprung, two characters discuss the Jimmy Buffett musical Escape to Margaritaville while apparently stealing a truck full of priceless paintings. If you didn’t know that Garcia co-wrote Escape to Margaritaville, the episode’s final scene would appear completely random. Instead, a full song from the aforementioned musical is played.
Garcia is the Rosetta Stone through which nearly every second of Sprung may be understood or analyzed. Garcia authored and directed each episode of Sprung. Are you trying to recall where you first saw a random supporting actor? It’s likely that you can recall them from a Garcia show. Wondering why a comical cadence, a pop-culture allusion, or a kitsch production design feel familiar? It probably has elements from a Garcia show in it.
Not that Garcia is self-plagiarizing in Sprung, but if you liked Raising Hope or My Name Is Earl (or The Guest Book or Yes, Dear, I suppose), you’ll probably enjoy trying to figure out what Freevee is (Amazon’s free television platform formerly known as IMDb TV) and how much you’ll have to pay to watch it (free). If not, then? With a fantastic ensemble cast, it still manages to strike a good balance between crude, lowbrow humor and well-executed pathos.
It should be noted that Sprung likewise has a COVID-19 backdrop and only employs the epidemic for comic effect. The way it examines the pandemic’s economic effects, particularly on blue-collar homes, is quite insightful. Given the comic character of the series, it is absolutely reasonable that it avoids discussing the pandemic’s more devastating toll, but it could turn off or at least worry some viewers.
The first season of the story takes place in 2020, in the early days of COVID, when some prisons were releasing non-violent prisoners because overcrowded institutions were serving as Petri dishes for illness. Not immediately funny. Jack (Garret Dillahunt), who has been imprisoned for 26 years due to mandatory minimum sentences for marijuana offenses, Gloria (Shakira Barrera), a skilled con artist, and Rooster (untrained petty criminal) are three of the inmates being freed (Phillip Garcia). Gloria and Jack have been flirting in their separate bathrooms even though they have never met. Gloria believes that Jack is 28 and that he looks like a cross between The Rock and A-Rod, even though he is not either of those things.
Jack and Gloria are now out from prison but have nowhere to go because COVID has closed down the entire world. When they accept Rooster’s invitation to move in with his mother Barb (Martha Plimpton), Barb quickly demands that the newcomers join the family’s small-time criminal organization. She’s been stealing people’s Amazon deliveries lately, which is funny for a character to do on a program that airs on a platform owned by Amazon. Insisting that they only rob bad people, starting with toilet paper hoarder Melvin (James Earl), who just so happens to be dating bikini dancer Wiggles (Clare Gillies), to whom Rooster was once very nearly engaged, Jack, a fundamentally decent sort who learned more about criminality in prison than in his time as an alleged miscreant.
The affluent congresswoman (played by Kate Walsh as Paula Tackleberry) who gained millions of dollars from insider trading before the pandemic started and is planning to make much more money after a vaccine is developed is among the future targets.
Garcia’s shows frequently begin with a broadness that appears to be making fun of his characters, who have a propensity for mispronunciations, obtain their news from completely dubious sources, and reside in homes filled with cornily unironic trinkets and broken, outdated equipment. Garcia often doesn’t waste much time in establishing empathy for his characters, discovering the warmth in their unkempt homes, the worth in their collections of vintage trinkets, the family histories in their wrecked cars, as well as the wisdom and resiliency in their lack of self-awareness.
Jack’s altruistic ambition to play Robin Hood mirrors the main character’s superficial but well-intentioned embrace of karma in My Name Is Earl, which is appropriate given that he also fervently believes in the ability of humans to do good. You might begin a Garcia show thinking he’s taking someone down, but despite the laughs he gets at the expense of those who are struggling financially, his true disdain is for the powerful and wealthy, as well as the institutions that fail so miserably that vigilante good guys like Jack or Jason Lee’s Earl must step in to set things right.
It’s simple to see how COVID ties into those topics after watching Sprung. Maybe our key characters place a bit too much stock in the counsel of our past president or trust a few too many medical conspiracies. However, the show is genuinely fond of them, whilst the antagonists are political swindlers and medical con artists. Garcia destroys his intended targets and doesn’t mind becoming pleasantly squeamish after doing nice actions. There is a lot of laughing throughout and even a few reluctant tears at one or two episode endings.
Because episodes of Sprung often last between 35 and 40 minutes, there is a lot of everything. It’s definitely more than any situation comedy could consistently handle, even with a lengthy preamble to each episode and surprisingly extended closing credit tags. Through the nine-episode season, several ongoing storylines—Jack and Gloria’s developing on-screen romance, Rooster and Wiggles’ reconciliation, Barb’s online contact with a potential fraudster, and the convoluted plans to rob the congresswoman—build well. However, there are undoubtedly several episodic storylines and entire episodes that could have used some editing.
For Raising Hope, Plimpton and Dillahunt both merited Emmy consideration, and they have remained exquisitely tuned to Garcia’s elegantly twisted comic speech. Although Barb and Virginia Chance from Raising Hope are not identical, they do have a common intelligence and profit from Plimpton’s dedication to every politically incorrect detail, painfully careless fashion decision, and slightly grotesque conduct. Jack’s ever-so-inappropriate developing romance with Gloria is made to seem acceptable by Dillahunt’s underlying innocence, particularly when it comes to cultural and technological developments during his time in prison, and is made to seem earned by Barrera’s keen humor.
Garcia is a master at creating likably stupid characters, and Clare Gillies and Phillip Garcia both excel at bringing out such sweetness in Rooster and Wiggles that they maintain their entire dignity even when it is obvious that the show is making fun of them. As the season goes on, Gillies in particular becomes better and better, and I had to rewind a few Wiggles moments because I missed the punchlines while laughing at the setups.
Sprung’s plot isn’t necessarily set up for a second season, and I believe the way the story ends makes sense in Garcia’s absurd but yet moving terms. That might be for the best, as My Name Is Earl in particular shown what can happen when a Garcia show’s delicate equilibrium is upset: the outcomes can be disastrous. However, Raising Hope maintained a good level of consistency over its four seasons; hence, it could be excellent to see the Sprung gang back for another COVID-assisted robbery.