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You won't want to miss this funny and surprising 'Reboot'

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. Steven Levitan, co-creator of the Emmy-winning hit ABC comedy series "Modern Family," has a new sitcom on Hulu. It's called "Reboot." And it's about the next-generation version of a fictional TV sitcom. Our TV critic David Bianculli has this review.

DAVID BIANCULLI, BYLINE: "Reboot" is a new Hulu comedy series about the rebirth of an old comedy series, one that never existed. The old fictional series is called "Step Right Up." And as this new Steven Levitan series tells it, "Step Right Up" was a standard three-camera family sitcom televised about 20 years ago. As "Reboot" begins, executives at Hulu are taking a pitch meeting about whether "Step Right Up" is ripe for a new incarnation. And they all have some input.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "REBOOT")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) I like this idea, but are people still doing reboots?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) Let's see - "Fuller House," "Saved By The Bell," "iCarly," "Gilmore Girls," "Gossip Girl."

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As character) "Party Of Five," "Party Down," "One Day At A Time."

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #4: (As character) "Boy Meets World," "How I Met Your Father," "The Wonder Years."

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) "Battlestar Galactica."

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #4: (As character) "Doogie Howser," "The Odd Couple."

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As character) "Perry Mason," "Hawaii Five-O," "Veronica Mars," "Fresh Prince," "Fraggle Rock."

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #4: (As character) "Fraggle Rock."

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) Makes me feel a little bit safer. What the hell? Let's remake something original.

BIANCULLI: The old stars of "Step Right Up," it turns out, have some conflicts. It's a little like the movie "Galaxy Quest," with each of the veteran actors having their own issues and baggage. The star of the series, Reed, is played by Keegan-Michael Key. His co-star, Bree, is played by Judy Greer. As the stars of "Reboot," they're wonderfully, consistently funny. And as the former stars of "Step Right Up," they have quite a history.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "REBOOT")

KEEGAN-MICHAEL KEY: (As Reed Sterling) Maybe we should talk about the way things ended.

JUDY GREER: (As Bree Marie Jensen) Oh, you mean how they canceled our show because you quit to go and do a movie that nobody saw?

KEY: (As Reed Sterling) I mean, us. I get back from a location, you left the country to marry a duke without so much as a goodbye.

GREER: (As Bree Marie Jensen) We were broken up, remember?

KEY: (As Reed Sterling) We broke up all the time, Bree. We got back together. We broke up. It's something we did.

GREER: (As Bree Marie Jensen) I don't even care. To you, I was always just some stupid small-town pageant girl who didn't go to college.

KEY: (As Reed Sterling) How can you say that?

GREER: (As Bree Marie Jensen) Because you were always giving me acting notes.

KEY: (As Reed Sterling) I gave you notes to help you.

GREER: (As Bree Marie Jensen) Well, if I needed so much help, how come I was nominated for a People's Choice Award and you weren't?

KEY: (As Reed Sterling) Because the people fell for your contrived little snort laugh.

GREER: (As Bree Marie Jensen) Or because you were overacting.

BIANCULLI: Both of them are inspired choices for this "Reboot" series. And the show's excellent casting doesn't end there. Rachel Bloom from "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend" plays Hannah, the TV-writer-producer who pitches the idea of bringing back the original series. And Paul Reiser, in his best sitcom role since "Mad About You," plays Gordon, the show's original creator. Contractually, "Step Right Up" can't be rebooted without Gordon being a part of the team, so he's brought back to work with a new generation of writers in the writers' room. In the third episode, Hannah introduces them to him, and another level of conflict is introduced instantly, hilariously and very uncomfortably.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "REBOOT")

RACHEL BLOOM: (As Hannah) Gordon - new writers.

PAUL REISER: (As Gordon) Oh, OK. Oh, good for us. This one of those diversity intern training things? You know what? Personally, I think it's a shame you're not getting paid, because that's not right at all. But I will say this, the lessons you're going to learn - invaluable. Case in point - misunderstandings, always funny. Example - guy's in a store, and he's talking to a busty sales girl...

BLOOM: (As Hannah) OK, stop. No, Gordon, these are the writers that I hired for the show before you decided to join us.

REISER: (As Gordon) Oh.

BLOOM: (As Hannah) Yeah. Janae comes from the Harvard Lampoon. Benny is an amazing queer playwright. And Azmina wrote an amazing spec script - and fine - is also from the Disney diversity program.

REISER: (As Gordon) What, no Eskimos?

BLOOM: (As Hannah) Oh, my God. Wow.

BIANCULLI: Eventually, the clashes between the two generational styles of comedy and their respective worldviews play out in the writers' room. Initially, there's a lot of tension, but the writers in the writers' room of "Reboot," this new Hulu series, know exactly what they're doing. "Modern Family" won the outstanding comedy series Emmy five times, and two of its strengths were its clever surprises and its constantly evolving and funny characters. "Reboot" boasts the same solid attributes. As in "Modern Family," there are twists in the first episode about some of the character relationships. And this new series is impeccably imaginatively populated, including making room for Johnny Knoxville as one of the former sitcom stars.

Based on the episodes Hulu provided for preview, "Reboot" is the funniest sitcom about making a sitcom since the Showtime series called "Episodes." Had the family sitcom "Step Right Up" really existed, I don't think I would have been a big fan or even watched it after the pilot. But "Reboot, right out of the gate, I absolutely love.

GROSS: David Bianculli is a professor of television studies at Rowan University. He reviewed the new sitcom "Reboot," which is streaming on Hulu.

Tomorrow on FRESH AIR, we'll talk about how climate change is creating rising sea levels, extreme storms, floods and fires, destroying homes and businesses, overwhelming our aging infrastructure and poisoning drinking water. My guest will be Brady Dennis, a national environmental reporter for The Washington Post who covers climate change and efforts to slow it down. I hope you'll join us.

FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham. Our senior producer today is Sam Briger. Our interviews and reviews are produced and edited by Amy Salit, Phyllis Myers, Roberta Shorrock, Lauren Krenzel, Heidi Saman, Therese Madden, Ann Marie Baldonado, Seth Kelley and Susan Nyakundi. Our digital media producer is Molly Seavy-Nesper. Thea Chaloner directed today's show. I'm Terry Gross. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Bianculli is a guest host and TV critic on NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross. A contributor to the show since its inception, he has been a TV critic since 1975.