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January 18, 2018

‘L.A. to Vegas’ the funniest flight you’ll take this year

Ultra-wacky new Fox sitcom melds ‘Airplane!’ with ‘The Office’

For the most part, "Fox sitcom" is a phrase I don’t particularly long to hear. With very few exceptions (“Married with Children,” “Arrested Development” and maybe one more I will eventually think of), I have found Fox’s live-action attempts at humor anything but comical (of course, “Family Guy” and “The Simpsons” rule!).

Which is why the network’s latest foray into Sitcom Land has me so gobsmacked: Through its first three episodes, “L.A. to Vegas,” which debuted Jan. 2, has consistently had me laughing—make that howling—out loud.

The series’ shorthand description is: “Airplane!” meets “The Office.” The title is also a description of the basic premise, as most of the action takes place on a plane that shuttles weekend revelers between The City of Angels and Lost Wages. And while it doesn’t quite match the venerated 1980 film for non-stop gags and absurd situations, it is, by network TV standards, ultra-wacky.

“The Office” figures in things because, in addition to being a workplace comedy, everything revolves around the lead character, ID’d only as “Capt. Dave.” In his general cluelessness, cheery goofiness and epic lack of self-awareness, he can claim kinship with Dunder-Miflin’s Michael Scott.

"L.A. to Vegas" pilot episode

The writing, under the aegis of show creator Lon Zimmet (a popular target of Internet trolls as he was the ABC-TV exec responsible for killing the cult favorite, “Happy Endings”) is sharp and smart, if more than a little out-there (the TSA would never sanction the behavior of the employees of the fictional Jackpot Airlines). The jokes come regularly, and are, generally speaking, fresh and clever. But, as we all know, words on paper are just that. Who delivers them, and how, are key. And here is where “L.A. to Vegas” is a genuine revelation.

Capt. Dave is played by veteran character actor Dylan McDermott. I admit I’m not all that familiar with his body of work, but I am a huge fan of his role as real-life thief, drug dealer and all-around scumbag David Lind, the character from whose perspective the story of “Wonderland,” the 2003 flick about the 1981 murders of a group of criminals in which the late porn star, John Holmes, played a crucial role, unfolds.

The engrossing, if exceedingly grim, film boasts nary a laugh, and McDermott is intense and riveting as Lind. Thus, you can imagine my skepticism when I learned he had this gig. But it turns out he is a masterful comedic actor and is simply perfect here.

Adding immeasurably to the laughs is Peter Stormare as Artem, an inveterate gambler who is a weekly passenger on Capt. Dave’s plane. Stormare is likewise known for dramatic roles (he was Steve Buscemi’s murderous partner in “Fargo”), but he, too, displays a real flare for comedy here (although I still haven’t been able to pin down his Scottish-sounding accent).

Peter Stormare in "Fargo"

Rounding out the ensemble are Kim Matula as Ronny, a somewhat insecure and unfulfilled flight attendant who, in this world, functions more or less as the voice of reason; Nathan Lee Graham as Bernard, her gay fellow attendant who gets a lot of the best punch lines; Ed Weeks as a British-born professor who, like Artem, heads to Vegas every Friday, although he goes to visit his estranged wife and their son, rather than gamble; Olivia Macklin as a sweet-natured stripper and Amir Talai as Dave’s hapless and disrespected co-pilot.

At this point, I wouldn’t necessarily place them among the Dunder-Mifflin crowd, or the gang on “Cheers” when it comes to sitcom ensembles, but if the early episodes are harbingers of the future, membership in that elite fraternity won’t be out of the question.

Bottom line: “L.A. to Vegas” is the quickest route to a load of laughs.

Chuck Darrow is a veteran entertainment columnist and critic. Listen to “That’s Show Biz with Chuck Darrow” 3 p.m. Tuesdays on WWDB-AM (860),, iTunes, IHeartRadio, and TuneInRadio.

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