Superior Donuts: EW review
On paper, Superior Donuts sounds like an unusual choice off the sitcom menu for CBS. The original play by Tracy Letts revolves around a doughnut shop in Chicago contending with gentrification and ripped-from-the-headlines issues over race and police violence. The lead characters — gruff shop owner Arthur and his new assistant Franco — differ in generation and skin color, and Arthur spends a good amount of stage time delivering nostalgic monologues that look back on his younger years.
Turns out the small-screen take, directed by James Burrows of Cheers fame, shares enough traits with its titular pastry that it ultimately cooks up something formulaic enough to fit on the Eye Network. It’s sweet: Arthur (Judd Hirsch at his Judd Hirsch-iest) and eager young Franco (an energetic Jermaine Fowler) have a warm, odd-couple rapport that doesn’t come off as overly cloying or sentimental, but simply honest. Arthur’s regular patrons — including Katey Sagal and Darien Sills-Evans as police officers, David Koechner as a trouble-prone local, Maz Jobrani as an acerbic businessman, and Anna Baryshnikov as a loyal millennial — flit in and out of scenes with familiarity and ease.
Yet, it’s also a little too fluffy. There are plenty of obvious quips about a certain venti-size coffee chain, and just as many slightly stale ones about offensive modern-day café inventions. (Are cronuts really still a thing?) When the show does tackle hot-button issues, it lacks nuance — one riff on race and gun control could have used a little more thought — and instead opts for throwaway lines that don’t service the characters involved.
Just based off its pilot, Superior Donuts has the right ingredients to make a consistently funny show that, more importantly, feels of its time, focusing less on nostalgia and more on change. What itreally needs, like a lot of fresh sitcoms these days, is some additional time in the oven. B
Superior Donuts premieres Thursday, Feb. 2 at 8:30 p.m. ET on CBS.