Nicole Byer is, it has become increasingly clear, a star of uncommon charisma. The comic is best-known to many viewers as the host of “Nailed It!” on Netflix, and on that show she has displayed a keen ability to let others in on the joke even while laughing at them.
She is a welcome presence throughout the likable if uneven early episodes of “Grand Crew,” an NBC sitcom featuring friends in a major American city — Los Angeles, in this case — who meet during off-hours to process stories from their lives. “Grand Crew” is warm and well-intentioned, and it is at its best when digging into the dynamic between its circle of friends. The show’s occasional absurdist notes can seem effortful; the show is best when it allows Byer’s askew delivery to be “Grand Crew’s” most stylized touch.
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The show centers on a group of friends: Along with Byer’s Nicky, the group consists of characters played by Justin Cunningham, Aaron Jennings, Echo Kellum, Carl Tart and Grasie Mercedes. The cast, from the show’s early going, has meshed elegantly, with carefully drawn characters generating a fun, discursive dynamic in their seemingly never-ending wine-fueled happy hours. And storylines about, say, Nicky and Noah’s (Kellum’s) sibling relationship click with relative ease, making the many scenes of drinking wine and chilling together work even when the writing can get thin or antic.
“Grand Crew” is a goofy, ebullient series, but some of its plotlines can feel contrived; I’m thinking especially of an episode that culminates in a father-son pie fight between one of the characters and his distant dad. Yes, it’s a way to break the tension of a distant parental relationship, but it also feels a little desperate for a punchy way to punctuate an often-very-talky show with some action.
I prefer “Grand Crew” when it leans into its talkiness, as it clearly has things on its mind: “Grand Crew” is unafraid to draw on the state of the world as experienced by Black friends. To wit, Nicky and Noah have a standing tradition of “Bad Black News Brunch” at times when there’s troubling or traumatizing media stories in the air; a plotline about Sherm’s (Tart’s) inability or unwillingness to cry nods to concepts of masculinity. The show is unafraid to explore its characters, both who they are and whom society expects them to be; by the eighth episode, Byer’s charisma is just one of the many tools this promising ensemble show has on its side.
“Grand Crew” premieres Jan. 4 on NBC at 8:30 p.m. ET.
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