There is something inherently off-putting about a Friday-night suicide sitcom. It’s not the seemingly incongruous melding of “suicide” and “funny.” (We’ve all seen The Lonely Guy.) And it’s not the irony of airing a show about unhappy, friendless people to those sitting at home watching TV on the weekend. It’s that in today’s TV landscape, where oddities are already the norm, with comedies about multiple personality disorder and a suburban mom selling weed, and dramas about a high school teacher making crank and a police analyst who’s also a serial killer, Gravity feels like just another bit of quirky telly, an attempt to be distinguishable and different in a way that just upholds the status quo.
Yet, it’s also actually very good. Gravity knows exactly how to make you laugh (the show’s hero drives his Mercedes off a cliff and is saved by plummeting directly into the pool of a passing gay cruise) and when you should cry (his future lover bites tearfully into a chocolate cake laced with codeine). The pair, Robert and Lily (made wonderfully complicated, yet easy to identify with, by Ivan Sergei and Krysten Ritter) meet up at a mandatory support group for suicidal New Yorkers where they’re forced into a sort of makeshift family by its leader, Dogg (a wheelchair bound Ving Rhames). Each subsequent episode uncovers why and how another member of the group tried to end it all—from the seemingly perfect housewife (a heartbreakingly good Robyn Cohen) to the faded former model (a surprisingly comfortable Rachel Hunter)—while continuing to deconstruct Robert and Lily as they navigate the world they no longer wanted to experience.
Lily is also being watched over by the cop who saved her life, Detective Miller—and it soon becomes clear how obsessed with her he really is (he’s got her baby pictures on his computer and wears a pair of her stolen underwear). Portrayed by the show’s co-creator and writer, Eric Schaeffer, the character of gambling addict Miller seems at once a misguided attempt to add a serialized mystery to the show and the perfect antidote to the dour members of the support group, who just can’t roll with the punches the way he does.
There are also excellent cameos by Jessica Walter as Robert’s overbearing, extremely religious mother and Robert Klein as his glib priest, but Gravity‘s strength is in its lead performances and Shaeffer’s writing. Shaeffer is no stranger to the wacky: He was also responsible for FX’s excellent but short-lived eating-disorder comedy, Starved, in which he appeared as an anorexic who, similar to Robert, meets likeminded friends in a support group. That show was more challenging than Gravity, whose suicide attempts are often quick and slightly comic—as opposed to the slow, bodily horror that is starving one’s body to death.