With the writers' strike stretching on and little to watch on television other than reality programming and game shows, a new network show with an ensemble cast of familiar faces offers hope for a welcome alternative. But CBS's new sitcom "Welcome to the Captain" premieres Monday with a resounding thud. The show follows Josh Flum (Frank Kranz), a down-on-his-luck writer with an Academy Award on his résumé, who moves into "a fabled Hollywood apartment building" called El Capitan, which the show's motley crew of residents have dubbed the Captain. Josh is disturbed by the overly enthusiastic greeting he receives on moving day, but in light of the situation, he is not disturbed nearly enough.
His friend Marty (Chris Klein) has gotten him into an "exclusive" building full of shut-ins and busybodies who converge on the common areas. "Welcome to the Captain" seems to posit what would happen if "Three's Company" were set in the hallway and focused solely on Mr. Roper terrorizing his tenants.
This is especially sad considering the actors who are confined inside the building. Jeffrey Tambor, who brought a dull genius to "The Larry Sanders Show" and a sharp wit to "Arrested Development," plays the building's longest resident, Sol. He's lived in the building longer than anyone, insists on being called "Uncle Sol," and is a former writer for "Three's Company." The other half of his comedic duo is the painfully racially stereotyped doorman, Jesus (Al Madrigal). Mr. Klein's Marty seems to make a habit of mistaking his beta-blockers for Adderall, while Raquel Welch moans on the sidelines as the aging (but still hot!) actress Charlene Van Ness. With little to distinguish it from any other high-rise in Los Angeles, the building plays yet another bland character in the series.
Sometimes it takes a while for ensemble shows to get off the ground, but focusing on a group of single tenants whose social lives consist of interactions with near strangers projects a quiet desperation that will be hard to shake. "Arrested Development" famously eluded audiences just long enough to get kicked off the air and become cherished on DVD. But "Welcome to the Captain" does not look destined to a fate longer than however many episodes were initially ordered.
In the first two installments, Josh meets all of his strange neighbors and falls for Hope (Joanna Garcia), who lives in the building. Mr. Kranz is likeable enough, but the show depends on his bad decision-making for plot development. Audiences have moved forward since Jack Tripper was stuck pretending to be the gay roommate of two buxom ladies, but "Welcome to the Captain" is a step backward from there. The show lacks the thinly veiled innuendos that kept "Three's Company" going for so long, and sadly overestimates the potential for entertainment in the life of a single writer who works from home.
If "Welcome to the Captain" moves out of the hallways and into the lives of its residents, it might find some success. As it stands, the premise looks more like a nightmare for apartment dwellers than a setup for jovial hijinks.