Created by Bruce McCulloch
Produced by ABC Studios, Dreamworks Television and 3 Arts Entertainment
Aired on ABC October 2, 2007- March 4, 2008
Series ran 13 episodes over one season
Fred Goss as Gracen Brooker
Jerry Minor as Aubrey Williber
Tim Pepper as Dougie
Jerry O’Connell as Laird Holcomb
Faith Ford as Leila Brooker
Allison Munn as Cyndie
TJ Miller as Marmaduke Brooker
The show centers on four suburban male carpooling friends whose interactions on their commute to and from work often set off the characters into interesting and comedic situations.
The Carpoolers are: Gracen, a mediator by profession, an insecurely uptight husband to a sensible real estate agent, and the father of an immature man child who has misdirected ambitions; Aubrey, an extremely stressed-out family man with a dispassionate wife and parade of children; Laird, an egotistical dentist who is recuperating from a fresh divorce; and Dougie, the group’s fresh faced newlywed who tries to fit in, but is often mocked for his honeymoon-phase/idealistic views on marriage.
The 2007-2008 season of television of ABC paired Carpoolers with another broad situation comedy, Cavemen, on Tuesday nights, followed by the Dancing with the Stars result show. I was actually heavily anticipating this show, due to my love of Bruce McCulloch of Kids in the Hall fame, who created it. From the pilot on, I could definitely see his oddball sensibility mixed with dark humor in the series.
The cast is very well put together, with Fred Goss—who had appeared in another short lived comedy series Sons and Daughters—as one of the main characters. Goss plays off his wife (Faith Ford) and his son (TJ Miller, in one of his earliest TV roles). Ford is always an enjoyable presence and her character on this series is particularly good, but TJ Miller, who plays Marmaduke the misunderstood late twenty-something stay at home son, is definitely the standout character in this household.
Jerry O’Connell plays Laird, another carpooler who is going through a divorce and seems to have it together, but is completely unraveling in really dark ways. There is another great comedic player in Jerry Minor as Aubrey, the worn out family man who is overwhelmed at home with a superfluous number of kids and not affectionate wife. Aubrey is one of the funniest characters on the show, as he is so soft spoken and repressed. Tim Pepper’s Dougie rounds up the last of the carpoolers as the naïve newlywed whose idealism contrasts the cynical members of the group. Pepper plays the role really well and works even better when teamed up with Allison Munn, who is hilarious as his supportive bride. Viewers at the time would’ve likely recognized Munn from her previous roles on shows like What I Like About You and That ’70s Show.
ABC Network aired all thirteen episodes, which consisted of many standalone situational episodes that do not really adhere to any kind of overarching through line to the series. It’s a testament to the fun and whimsical nature of the series that you can check into any given episode and enjoy it without having seen any before or after. There really aren’t any major changes that need to be addressed—the comedy simply builds from the characers’ interactions in the car and then follows the implications of those conversations as they play out through the course of the episode.
The key themes of the show are male bonding and the psychological bearings of manhood and fatherhood, and the inferiority complexes that can arise when facing that masculinity, or the lack thereof, in the setting of suburbia. This is low-stakes humor, with the characters’ exaggerated reactions escalating to the ridiculous. There is also a fun reoccurring rivalry with another carpooling group featuring Kids in the Hall alum Scott Thompson that the leads compete with for a parking space, stirring the group into a good frenzy.
The series as a whole is great throughout, but there are a few standout episodes that are worth highlighting:
Episode four, “Down for the Count”: Laird learns that Gracen has a higher sperm count than him and Aubrey puts Dougie to work in exchange for his help getting Dougie’s newborn admission to a high-end preschool.
Episode five, “A Divorce to Remember”: Rebecca Romijn guest stars as real-life husband O’Connell’s character Laird’s ex-wife Joannifer, who stirs up trouble among the carpoolers.
Episode 13, “Take Your Daughter to Work Day”: Aubrey is fired after he explodes with anger at his boss, after being so tightly wound for so long. As an added bonus for Kids in the Hall fans, the boss is played by Dave Foley.
This series really ought to be on home video DVD for fans of Bruce McCulloch, because his brand of comedy is unique and the themes presented in this series are wonderfully dark and strange. Even better would be a DVD set with features such as commentary by McCulloch, or even an interview with him or the rest of the cast. This is really a series that should be preserved and taken note of.
After Carpoolers, Bruce McCulloch went on to reunite with the cast of KITH for a miniseries Death Comes to Town in 2010. Some of the notable cast that can currently be seen on television are T.J. Miller, who is one of the featured cast members in the HBO series Silicon Valley, Jerry Minor, who appeared on the new HULU original comedy series Hotwives of Orlando, and Allison Munn, who is a regular on the Nickelodeon series Nicky, Ricky, Dicky and Dawn.
Youtube: There is a playlist of all 13 full episodes available. It may not be the best way to watch Carpoolers, but it’s the only one available for now.