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Television Review

‘Allen Gregory’ draws on Hill’s strengths

Jonah Hill gives voice to the title character in Fox’s new animated series, “Allen Gregory.’’ Jonah Hill gives voice to the title character in Fox’s new animated series, “Allen Gregory.’’ (FOX)
By Matthew Gilbert
Globe Staff / October 28, 2011

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Jonah Hill was effectively unnerving as the man-child in the movie “Cyrus.’’ He played a guy in his 20s with seriously unresolved Freudian issues, who becomes a possessive nightmare when his mother brings home a boyfriend. Hill, with his round face, looked like a big pouty baby, as he tried to undermine his mother’s happiness.

Hill is similarly right as the voice of the man-child at the center of Fox’s new animated series, “Allen Gregory.’’ His Allen Gregory is not as threatening as Cyrus, but he is just as strange a spectacle of age inappropriateness, a 7-year-old kid who is pretentious, snobby, and brilliant. He brings sushi and pinot grigio to school in his lunchbox, he lobbies for fuel cell technology on Capitol Hill, and he likes to schmooze in the cafeteria about Charlie Rose. A compact monster of cultural airs, his daily wardrobe consists of a beige suit with a flower pinned to the lapel. He’s a great little invention, a perfect vehicle for Hill and his nebbishy, angry energy.

“Allen Gregory,’’ which premieres Sunday at 8:30 on Channel 25, isn’t always equal to the originality of the title character. The show, like many animated sitcoms, strains to be worthy of more than just the 10-minute-short treatment, and is therefore filled in with some unfunny and repetitive material. The idea of satirizing know-it-all, narcissistic kids is solid. I love the way Allen Gregory talks down to every adult he encounters, as if they’re members of a lower species. But the world built around that core of satire is a lot less promising.

Here’s the premise: Allen Gregory has two daddies, and they aren’t as wealthy as they used to be. Richard (French Stewart) is simpering and obnoxious, and his younger partner, Jeremy (Nat Faxon), is his boy toy. Now that Richard is financially strained, Jeremy can no longer home-school Allen Gregory, and so the kid must now mix with the hoi polloi at the local elementary school. Every scene with Richard and Jeremy is flat; they depend on dated stereotypes of gay men, but not in a clearly ironic way. The writers may or may not be mocking “The Boys in the Band,’’ but either way, the jokes just feel old and stale.

Allen Gregory’s public school experiences also lack a fresh take. There are bullies, there are geeks, there is the hierarchy that “Glee’’ has been rubbing our noses in for years now. As Allen Gregory deals with all of the kids and teachers, there are no surprises for us. His crush on the older, unattractive principal (voiced by Renée Taylor) is amusing, as he continually puts the moves on her, but I can imagine that the joke of it will wear thin after a few episodes. Still, I’m not ready to write this show off, and plan to watch at least one more episode. Let’s see what the kid has up his finely laundered sleeve.

Matthew Gilbert can be reached at gilbert@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @MatthewGilbert.

ALLEN GREGORY

Starring the voices of: Jonah Hill, French Stewart, Will Forte

On: Fox, Channel 25

Time: Sunday, 8:30-9 p.m.