We know that comedy is hard to translate into other languages. Which is why the most successful comedies on streaming have themes that are universal and humor that comes out of character development. When it’s just jokes and slapstick, sometimes the humor gets lost in that translation. A new Italian comedy starring longtime comedy duo Ficarra and Picone is one of those kinds of shows.
Opening Shot: A man rides a cart pulled by a donkey on a dirt road. Suddenly, a van blows past him and stops.
The Gist: Out of the van spill a couple of guys with guns, plus two guys in vests that are tied up. As the one of the gun-toting guys tells the guys in the vests to get on their knees, one begs for his life by talking too fast. “Too many verbs!” says the gangster as he gets ready to shoot them.
We go back to how all this began. Salvo (Salvatore Ficarra) has fallen asleep watching his favorite crime drama, whose finale was going to finally reveal the killer. His wife Ester (Anna Favella) wakes him up and not only tells him he’s watching too much of this show, she’s upset that he pays more attention to that than her. Meanwhile, Valentino (Valentino Picone) lives with his mother, who cooks a breakfast feast for him. Somehow, he sees fit to complain about the ricotta in his cake and the sugar in his coffee. She thinks all of that is good for him.
Salvo and Valentino own an appliance and TV repair business. They’re called to an apartment by a man who can’t seem to get his TV to turn on. Unbeknownst to them, though, a killer invades that man’s apartment, right as he’s about to get into a bath, and shoots him dead.
When Salvo and Valentino get there — Salvo takes the elevator, the claustrophobic Valentino takes the stairs — they find the body and freak out. Valentino somehow manages to touch the gun that was left there, and when Salvo finds out what’s going on, his knowledge of crime scenes — gathered from all the shows he’s watched — kicks in.
They try to clean everything up without the workers outside knowing that they’re in there. But when Valentino’s mom calls, he tells her they’re out of town. Word gets back to Ester, who calls to yell at Salvo about it. Then, the man’s phone rings, and it’s a familiar voice on the machine: Ester’s.
What Shows Will It Remind You Of? Framed! A Sicilian Murder Mystery (original title: Incastrati) has a lot of the same pacing as a show we just reviewed, Bunker. It also has a lot of the same problems.
Our Take: Ficarra and Picone is a well-known comedy team in Italy, and we’d imagine that, given the right project, a show with the two of them as the stars could be pretty funny. This isn’t one of those shows.
The idea is that Salvo and Valentino get themselves in deeper as the story goes along, somehow strengthening their connection to this murder they didn’t commit the more they try to prove their innocence (“incastrati” is Italian for “stuck”, after all). But aside from the obvious chemistry the two longtime comedy partners have with each other, there’s nothing much about this show that’s attractive aside from some of the Sicilian scenery.
Salvo is so obsessed with crime dramas that he spends what seems like hours to describe an episode to his wife or to Valentino. For his part, Valentino seems to be a guy who’s completely comfortable being a middle-aged guy who’s taken care of by his mother. That’s the extent of their characters, at least as far as we see in the first episode.
And, it seems pretty obvious that they didn’t just stumble on this crime scene by accident; they were sent there for a reason. By the end of the first episode, we start to wonder who wants to set them up and who’s involved in it. It could go as deep as Ester, who makes that call in order to give Salvo a motive. But how long will the series take to get to the bottom of this? We’re not looking to find out.
Sex and Skin: None.
Parting Shot: As Salvo sobs over his crumbling marriage, we see Valentino tell him that there is now a motive for him to be connected to the man’s killing.
Sleeper Star: Anna Favella as Ester has some good back-and-forth with Salvo, but the show is mainly a two-hander at this point.
Most Pilot-y Line: Did Salvo stream the cop show and binge it or watch it every week for years? It’s not clear.
Our Call: SKIP IT. We don’t usually cite comedies for being funny only to the people of the country of origin, but Framed! A Sicilian Murder Mystery feels like one of those shows.
Joel Keller (@joelkeller) writes about food, entertainment, parenting and tech, but he doesn’t kid himself: he’s a TV junkie. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Slate, Salon, RollingStone.com, VanityFair.com, Fast Company and elsewhere.