Another Day of the Grind
Clerks: The Unaired Pilot
A while ago the crew of Asteroid G did a podcast on the unaired pilot for Clerks. While we all discussed it pretty well there, it did seem like I should put together my own review for the episode, not just because I like to write but also because... no, okay, mostly because I like to write. But completeness for the article archive is important, so here we go.
For those of you that may at least be passingly familiar with the movie Clerks, you may still not realize what show we're talking about here. Yes, there was a cartoon called Clerks that creator Kevin SmithConsidering where he came from, working as a clerk in a convenience store, it's pretty impressive that (for at least a little while) Kevin Smith became a defining cinematic voice of a generation. produced. Wile fun, it was short lived, not finding the audience it needed on ABC. This is not that show. This is the show you likely never saw because it never made it out of the pilot stage and went unaired. The only reason people know about the episode, and have seen it, is because it eventually leaked and can be found, randomly, on YouTube. While I'd say you could go find it, I would hope that, after reading this review and listening to the 'cast, you would elect to do anything else with your precious time.
If you've seen the movie, and the cartoon, the basics of this episode will seem similar, but there's just enough that's off, or wrong, that keeps the show from truly feeling like Clerks. Dante (Andrew Lowery) is a loser that can't get his life together. He works are a convenience store, putting in long hours for little pay, and the most fun he has in his love comes from his friends, Randall (Randal Graves) and Todd (Rick Gomez), as well as his girlfriend, Veronica (Noelle Parker). He hates his job, but the comfort of the familiar is what keeps him trapped in his day-to-day grind.
Things take a turn, though, when an old boyfriend of Ronnie's comes sniffing around. That guy, Cliff (Andre Nemec), has his whole life together. He's going to an Ivy League school, has an internship and job lined up, and is going to easily be making six figures any day now. Dante is still loading the fridges at work for minimum wage. Ronnie wants Dante to get his life together and try harder, but all Dante can do us get jealous of Cliff and pine for things he feels he can never have. Can the two of them ever make it work? Well, we don't really have the answer to that question because the pilot was the only episode produced, but needless to say that Cliff is a nothing character who really doesn't stand much of a chance when our convenience store bro has plot armor guiding him.
When it comes to the show, there were elements that works, and ones that didn't, but there was also an awful lot that didn't feel at all right when compared to the movie. And, frankly, you have to compare this to the movie because, if you didn't know that Clerks (the movie) existed then why were you even going to bother watching Clerks (the show) at all. The series came baked with a pre-set audience, all the producers had to do was give them the movie they liked, on the small screen. They really dropped the ball there.
Now, we could make much about the changes the show made for basic TV formatting. Yes, the show was filmed in color, but then so was the cartoon as well as both sequels. Just because the original film was done in black and white as a cost saving measure didn't mean everything that came after had to be done the same way. And it is true that the language for the show was toned down, nowhere near as raunchy as that in the R-rated film, but then that's to be expected for a TV show on a broadcast network, so we let those things go.
No, the big issue with the show is that, for all it's little changes, it just doesn't really get the whole vibe of Clerks. Yes, Dante is a sad sack loser in the film but somehow, in the midst of all that, he has a number of adventures that make his life seem full (he just doesn't actually realize it because he hates his life). Meanwhile, TV Dante just act sad and does barely anything. The show seems bound and determined to show that he can grow and change without earning any of that. At least movie Dante could get out of his own head once in a while to bitch about customers, or play roof hockey, or just chill with Randall. Show Dante doesn't get to do any of that.
With that said, Lowery is actually pretty funny as Dante. The best laughs in the episode come from him and Ronnie playing off each other. The two, Lowery and Parker had legit chemistry in this spare 20-ish minute episode, and had they been given more time to actually do their thing together I think they could have forged a pretty solid TV couple. To do that, though, it would have required anything funny happening in the rest of the episode, and that just wasn't in the cards.
The worst part of the episode is, by far, Jim Breuer. This man is an absolute sucking void of the opposite of comedy. He pulls all comedy in around him and makes things less funny by grace of his very presence. Where Dante is a grounded and fairly realistic character, Breuer plays Randall as an over-the-top cartoon of a man. Movie Randall wasn't the most grounded, but he at least had that cool, slacker vibe that made up for it. He was slightly heightened because he was fighting letting his job suck him down to the same level as Dante. TV Randall just suck. He exists in his own, play-to-the-audience world, and he's not funny. The show would be better without him.
Oh, and I guess there's Todd, the third friend created for this show, added in for... reasons? I assume the plan was to give him his own stories and let the various character bounce off each other. Here, though, he's just awkward because the writers didn't really know what to do with him. They should have saved Todd for later episodes where he could get introduced and developed instead of just shoving him in where he wasn't needed. The same could be said for Dante's dad (Larry Brandenburg) who is here just to yell at Dante so he can get his life together. The show doesn't need this; we already know Dante needs to get his life together. The episode has all these random pieces that make it look like the writers threw everything they could at the wall. Problem is that barely anything stuck.
There was a potential version of the show that might maybe have worked. The original actors for Dante and Randall, O'Halloran and Anderson, wanted to play the leads, and Smith even wrote a script for it. All of this was rejected by the suits running this show. They clearly thought they knew better than the guy that made the movie and his crew. I'm not sure that version of the show would have lasted much longer (the cartoon only went six episodes, remember), but at least it would have felt like Clerks.
Could Clerks work on TV? Maybe, once, back in the day, with the right elements. The pilot shows why that was probably a bad idea, at least in the hands of (checks notes)... oh, this was also made by ABC. Yeah, maybe keeps Clerks away from ABC, Kevin.