The early days of the pandemic seem distant now. We were Cloroxing our errands, trying not to touch our faces, fumbling high and low for a roll of toilet paper, and being told a few weeks of confinement would “flatten the curve”. Are we ready to laugh at all this as the setting for a comedy about newly released convicts? If anyone can make us do it, it’s Greg Garcia.
ON SPRINGS: STREAM IT OR SKIP IT?
Opening shot: Inmates walking around a prison. “BASED ON REAL EVENTS. SPRING 2020”.
The essential: As an inmate named Jack (Garret Dillahunt) prepares to speak to his “girlfriend” on the phone about the restroom in his cell, he and his cellmate Rooster (Phillip Garcia) learn that they are being released, as in this moment. Why? Because of something called the coronavirus; prisons were ordered to release nonviolent inmates to reduce overcrowding.
That’s great for Jack, who was a victim of mandatory minimums in the ’90s, serving since 1994 for smuggling weed. But, like all liberated people, they have nowhere to go and they have no idea that the rest of the world is in lockdown. So, for his last $40, he hitches a ride with Rooster’s mom, Barb (Martha Plimpton). Gloria (Shakira Barrera), who happens to be Jack’s toilet phone girlfriend, also enters Barb’s Pacer. Needless to say, he wasn’t the burly young man he had told her he was. The dick pic he sent her wasn’t even his; it was Rooster’s, which Barb recognized right away.
Barb is also a petty criminal, stealing packages from porches as more and more people shopped online. She wants to rob Melvin (James Earl), the local toilet paper hookup who raked in the money due to early pandemic shortages. At first, Jack doesn’t want to participate; he’s a pot dealer not a thief.
But he soon realizes that, with the world closed, Barb is the only one willing to provide him with food (a heart-attack-inducing thing called a John Wayne pan) and a place to live. So he uses all the knowledge he gained in prison to make the plan much more foolproof.
What shows will this remind you of? Greg Garcia, who created, wrote and directed On springsalso created My name is Earl and Bringing Hope (the latter also featuring Dillahunt and Plimpton), and this series is very much in the same vein.
Our opinion : The reason why On springs work is twofold. First, it continues Garcia’s formula of telling funny stories about unlucky people and coping with them, mixed with heartfelt moments that show his characters have human emotions. But the other reason it works is because it’s the first show that really highlights the absurdity of those early days, weeks, and months of the pandemic.
Maybe we needed the right distance from that time – and who knew the “right distance” was 28-29 months? — or maybe we needed a show that wasn’t created via Zoom or had people wearing masks around each other until it was time to recite the dialogue. But it looks like Garcia is packing the first episode with the biggest hits from the early days of the pandemic, from “flattening the curve” to toilet paper shortages to news anchors reporting on the pandemic from their living rooms to the fact that ‘we were told no to touch our faces. Normally, this may seem forced. But more often than not these gags land, perhaps because we cringe at how freaked out we all were at the time.
Will these gags continue? We imagine Garcia will relieve them as the group merges and plans to rob local congresswoman Paula Tackleberry (Kate Walsh). But the idea is that much of what Barb and her new team are doing stems from all the crazy things that have happened in 2020, especially as the country has started to be severely divided on issues such as government masking and lockdown orders. It will be a factor in this first season, even if Garcia takes his foot off the pandemic gas pedal.
But like the Garcia shows we quoted above, county and Hopethe other factor that draws us to On springs is that he kind of gives characters like Jack a conscience that feels organic and not just a ploy. In the first episode, Jack sees a report about a nurse on a COVID ward who sleeps in her car so as not to infect her mother or children, but has to read to her son and daughter over the phone. He decides to take his own learned criminal skills and put them to good use. Because Jack isn’t exactly a criminal, we know he has a heart. We suspect Gloria does too, and possibly Rooster, who hates the fact that her ex Wiggles (Clare Gillies) is dating Melvin. We know Barb is bad news, but Plimpton is so good at playing her that we don’t care.
The balance between character arcs, the gang putting together the big score, and ongoing pandemic gags should make for a fun first season, as long as Garcia sticks to the formula that made county and Hope long series.
Sex and skin: Barb talks about playing with “my bean” and continues to give Gloria the Polaroid of Rooster’s penis, but that’s about it.
Farewell shot: After stealing from Melvin and coming off clean, Jack enjoys some Fruit Stripe gum while lying on a trampoline and gazing at the stars. In the end credits, we see him jump up and down on this trampoline.
Sleeping Star: Shakira Barrera has multiple responsibilities as Gloria. She may or may not be a love interest for Jack. But she is also the ambitious voice of reason that will try to elevate the group beyond odd jobs.
The most pilot line: Some of the “guy in jail for decades don’t know the world now” gags got flat, like Jack seeing various bins for recycling and composting and saying, “Trash cans have gotten fancy!”
Our call: SPREAD IT. We trust Greg Garcia not to beat a dead horse with pandemic gags On springs. But for the first episode, they’re a good way to introduce the backstory of Jack and the rest of the characters, and Garcia is well on her way to establishing the characters’ humor at the center of the series.
Joel Keller (@joelkeller) writes about food, entertainment, parenting and technology, but he’s not fooling himself: he’s a TV junkie. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Slate, Salon, RollingStone.com, VanityFair.comFast Company and elsewhere.