I’LL ADMIT IT: the only sitcom I have ever really loved is “Frasier.” Yes, the ’90s show about Frasier (Kelsey Grammer) and Niles (David Hyde Pierce), bougie Seattle therapist brothers who navigate life and love. Frasier and Niles are highfalutin, egomaniacal, bumbling idiots, and more often than not the butt of the episode’s jokes. I liked “Frasier” because it never fully felt like a sitcom. The show had an unpredictable quality to it that I feel is lacking in most sitcoms. You never quite knew how an episode would end, even if it started in a more typical manner.
Netflix’s new sitcom “No Good Nick” is not as smart, funny, or biting as “Frasier.” Nor is it trying to be. But, like “Frasier,” it doesn’t quite feel like a sitcom. It is unpredictable, in more ways than one.
The premise is the first surprise, though not at first glance. “No Good Nick” is about the Thompsons, a white upper-middle class family headed by ’90s darlings Melissa Joan Hart as Liz and Sean Astin as Ed. Liz is a well-known chef and a tough-love parent, whereas Ed is the softie. Their children Molly and Jeremy, played by Lauren Donzis and Kalama Epstein, respectively, are precocious teenager stereotypes: Molly is a naive social justice warrior, and Jeremy is a power-hungry teen politician on the rise. All together, they exist in a tried and true sitcom state of snarky domestic harmony. But all of that changes when Nick, an orphaned long-lost cousin, appears on their doorstep. Played by Siena Agudong, she flies into their lives and upends everything, appealing to the family to let her stay, which, of course, they do. Ed and Molly accept her readily. Liz is slower to warm to the young ward, but allows her to stay and begins to bond with her. Jeremy is the holdout: he thinks her story is too good to be true.
Turns out, he’s right, and this is where things get interesting. It would be typical for Nick to be a troublemaker, or for the show to go the fish-out-of-water route with Nick embodying a street-tough kid in a privileged suburban household. Instead, it is revealed that Nick is a con artist. She isn’t orphaned, rather, her father is in jail and the people posing as her social workers are her real foster parents. Turns out Nick and her father are targeting the Thompsons and intend to steal everything out from under them, both to pay for his debts and for some not-yet-disclosed personal vendetta. As a result, every episode is a new scam that Nick is trying to pull off to help her dad, while also getting deeper and deeper ingrained into the family unit.
The “situational” part of this sitcom is funny enough: the scams are amusing, the rapport between the family members is crisp and sometimes hilarious. The performances are anchored by Astin and Hart, who add a level of professionalism and technique to the show that the younger actors can certainly learn from. Agudong as Nick is a decent young actress, who appears much more comfortable with the comedy than the drama of the show, but handles both laudably. The interesting and unpredictable part of the show is anchored in this drama. For Nick, not being able to help her father is a constant source of anxiety, as is her double life as orphaned cousin and young woman who has been thrown into this situation. Watching her succeed or fail, along with the emotions involved in that, is compelling. You begin to question if she really wants to pull off this con, but she’s in too deep to stop. There is one episode in particular where Nick gets questioned by the family and ends up in tears which hits especially hard. We are reminded that at the end of the day, she is a child being asked to do something incredibly difficult, with the added weight of saving her dad from violent prison beatings if she can get the money in time.
The show itself is not a revelation by any means, but it provides an interesting addition to the new drama-comedy genre. It definitely leans on sitcom tropes, but the serious bits hit hard when they need to. On an infinitely expanding platform like Netflix, a show like this can go unnoticed, but it is worth a search if you’re looking for an amusing, quirky and often heartfelt time. Nick may be ‘no good’ but the show definitely is more good than bad.