Hulu’s latest original series, Reboot, is brought to us by Steven Levitan, one of the minds behind ABC’s mockumentary mainstay Modern Family. In case the name isn’t self-explanatory: Reboot follows the process of rebooting a fictional early 2000s sitcom called Step Right Up. That show’s plot is simple: a man helps his new wife co-parent her son with her ex-husband. The period details are pitch perfect right down to Step Right Up‘s opening credits, which are heavily reminiscent of (among other 90s sitcoms) ABC’s Step by Step (if anyone remembers that show).
Woke writer Hannah (Rachel Bloom) pitches the idea of rebooting the series to Hulu execs on the basis of changing the plot ever so slightly to show the passage of time. Because the original series was a network sitcom, the characters always did the right thing. In the rebooted version, though, they’ll do the wrong thing instead – and they’re allowed to do so, even expected to, because the reboot is on a streamer. It’s hilarious how into this idea the network execs are. It also turns out that Step Right Up‘s original cast is available to do the reboot, having flopped after the series ended twenty years earlier. Which is how we learn what they’ve been up to in the time since!
Reed (Keegan-Michael Key) couldn’t get any legitimate work after Step Right Up ended and his attempt at movie stardom flopped hard; he tried his hand at “the theatre,” moving to New York to pursue a career there. Clay (Johnny Knoxville) went back to stand-up and alcohol, then got himself arrested for a series of assorted misdemeanors. Bree (Judy Greer) had one other TV job before leaving Hollywood to marry the Duke of Fjordstad, making her a literal Duchess. And Zach (Calum Worthy), the former child star (and the only one of the cast still in the industry) is popping out shitty straight-to-video teen movies.
Reboot Episode 1 starts off rough – some of the jokes are too on-the-nose, making frequent and obvious references to both contemporary times and TV’s current obsession with bringing old shows back from the dead. (Plus, as far as meta-references to TV reboots go, Only Murders in the Building just toyed with the exact same premise.) As Step Right Up‘s new showrunner, Hannah wants to modernize the series. That means making it darker, letting its characters face consequences once in awhile – and allowing them to have secrets. And for a moment, it seems like Hannah’s going to get what she wants. Which is exactly when Gordon (Paul Resier), Step Right Up‘s creator and original showrunner, steps up. It turns out that Gordon still owns the rights to the show. And he’s perfectly happy to allow a reboot…provided he gets to be in charge of it.
As Reboot Season 1 progresses, the show finds its footing. The jokes start to land more often as the series leans into the meta comedy of a sitcom poking gleeful fun at the process of making sitcoms. It’s a send-up of actors and writers and the outlandish ideas that get tossed around in the creative process, only to be immediately trashed. We witness the cast navigate working with one another again, as fictional (and real) families come back together.
I’d be remiss to end this review without mentioning the stand-out performance by Judy Greer. We’ve always known that she’s hilarious, and having a series where she’s the female lead allows her to tap into her full talent as a comedic actor, which feels so long overdue. In the words of the great Lizzo, “It’s about damn time.” Greer is perfect as Bree, nailing every moment she gets – especially the one-liners. (A personal favorite: “To an entire nation of people, I am like the sun.”)
Levitan really leans into having the series be on a streamer, where it doesn’t have to follow the FCC’s rules for broadcast TV. The “fuck”s go flying; we get brief instances of nudity. It makes one wonder what would’ve become of later seasons of Modern Family if that show had had less restrictions. Which isn’t to say that Reboot is not reminiscent of its sister series. Both series share similar music; the characters have similar cadences; but now we get the added freedom of adult language and themes. And that’s pretty much where comparisons stop. As Reboot Season 1 continues, the episodes go by in what feels like a blink. It’s a sign to me that the series is landing its plot lines well.
The first four episodes of Reboot are now streaming on Hulu. New episodes release every Tuesday.