Is the Love for ‘Loudermilk’ Really Just Love for Ron Livingston?

Rumor has it Netflix might revive the mishandled sitcom. But might we just really want a new vehicle for its star?
Is the Love for ‘Loudermilk’ Really Just Love for Ron Livingston?

In October of 2017, a single-camera sitcom called Loudermilk premiered. Co-created by Bobby Mort and Peter Farrelly, the show revolved around Sam Loudermilk, a former music critic who gave up his career along with his addictions after causing a horrifying car crash involving Loudermilk’s wife. The show was renewed for a third season not long after its second débuted, but Loudermilk had the misfortune of belonging to the AT&T Audience Network, a streaming service that closed up shop in April 2020. 

The following March, the nearly lost third season of Loudermilk found its way to Prime Video in the U.S., but it wasn’t until January of this year that Loudermilk started streaming on Netflix — and apparently became a hit. The first week of its Netflix drop, it landed at number eight on the platform’s Top 10. Given that shows like YouManifestGirls5eva and Cobra Kai have had new seasons produced after breaking out of Netflix’s library content, rumors about a possible fourth season of Loudermilk keep cropping up. 

But is it Loudermilk that we really want more of, or the guy who plays him? Netflix chart position aside, Loudermilk is kind of mid. Ron Livingston, on the other hand, is a treasure.

The first comedy I can remember seeing Livingston in is the 1996 indie film Swingers, a breathtakingly specific portrait of Hollywood scenesters who haven’t quite made it as actors the way they thought they would when they first moved to town, and maybe aren’t quite as cool as they think. Its leads, Jon Favreau (who plays Mike, and also wrote the screenplay) and Vince Vaughn (his best L.A. friend Trent) got so much attention that there wasn’t much left over for Livingston, even though his role as Rob — a newly arrived aspiring actor who’s friends with Mike from back east — is pivotal in defining Trent and Mike’s status in their social circle and careers. Trent has embarrassing stories about auditioning to play a pre-teen when he’s in his mid-20s, but at least he’s not Goofy.

Evincing the most placid energy while bigger personalities pop off around him in Swingers was great preparation for Livingston to play Peter in Office Space a few years later. A guy whose job is to work on transitioning software to avoid the Y2K bug, but whose main occupation is hating that job, Peter is brought to a hypnotist to tweak his mindset about work. Unfortunately, said hypnotist suffers a fatal heart attack mid-session, and sends Peter too far in the other direction. Serenely ignoring phone calls at home on the weekend and blowing off whole days without explanation, Peter is a true quiet-quitting pioneer.

Against the ethos of the prosperous late 1990s (before the first internet crash), Office Space dares to suggest that pursuing upward career growth might not be worth doing at the expense of one’s happiness. We might not believe it with a different kind of actor, but in the movie’s final moments, Livingston’s pleasantly rumpled face looks convincingly satisfied as he works on a road crew and looks forward to time with his girlfriend and an old Kung Fu episode after his clearly delineated shift.

Livingston has also had a healthy run playing comedy heels, probably most notoriously as Jack Berger in Sex and the City. Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) may think he’s a good match since they’re both writers; viewers may think so as well since he sometimes acts as an audience surrogate, calling out Carrie and her friends for their more diva-esque personality quirks. Ultimately, the relationship is doomed by her upward career trajectory, about which Berger feels competitive and insecure. The affair culminates in the event that will probably be the first line in Livingston’s obituary: Berger dumps Carrie on a Post-It Note.

Livingston goes even darker in Search Party. This millennial mystery kind of loses the plot after a while, but the first season is solid: Dory (Alia Shawkat) hears a college acquaintance named Chantal (Clare McNulty) has gone missing, and despite a complete lack of investigative skills, she becomes obsessed with finding her, enlisting her boyfriend and their best friends in the project. Before long, Dory crosses paths with Keith (Livingston), an actual P.I. who’s also looking for Chantal; no spoilers for the first season, inarguably the best of its run, but Keith isn’t exactly what he seems and she’s worse off for knowing him. This is something she couldn’t guess, given how drawn she is to his shambling Gen-X charm, but this is how the show’s producers weaponize Livingston’s essential Livingstonity, subverting the viewer’s expectation of what a Livingston character is likely to do. (See also: the goopy This Is Us-alike A Million Little Things, the action of which is set into motion by Livingston’s character’s suicide.)

Livingston’s essential Livingstonity is in full effect in Loudermilk, to such a degree that I wouldn’t be surprised to learn he’s still in the same jeans and open button-downs we saw him wear in Office Space — or just his own wardrobe from home. As we meet him, Loudermilk has four years of sobriety since his car crash, and leads a meeting of “Sober Friends” (not Alcoholics Anonymous, for legal reasons) in the community hall of a Seattle church. But in the series premiere, he’s handed what may be his biggest challenge ever: an important parishioner’s daughter is using meth, and the parish priest wants Loudermilk to help her into recovery. 

What with the colorful characters in Loudermilk’s meeting — including a surprisingly profane Brian Regan as Mugsy — and the various situations they get into trying (and often failing) to stay sober, it’s a solid premise for a series. It also has continuity across seasons that make it more satisfying to marathon than many comedy shows. For me, it feels like a throwback — not to 2017, when it premiered, but maybe 10 years earlier, when antiheroes dominated the TV landscape. Most episodes open with the misanthropic Loudermilk picking a pointless fight about perceived offenses that really don’t affect him at all, like a couple of strangers’ Civil War reenactor-level beards, or a barista’s affected style of speaking. 

Even his closest friends are constantly — and very justifiably — calling Loudermilk an asshole, and though the slow pace of his attempts at growth may be true to real life, they can be frustrating to endure from our side of the screen. There are also a lot of homophobic and transphobic jokes that are, of course, offensive, but not wildly; they’re more corny and old-fashioned. Loudermilk isn’t bad; it’s just not great, even in the context of sober comedies, and if there’s a conversation to be had about which title in that subgenre most deserves a post-cancellation revival, I would personally put MomSingle Drunk Female, and, God help me, even Bupkis ahead of it.

But I wonder if the viewers who have made it such a sensation on Netflix got hooked because of stories like Mugsy’s efforts to reconnect with his estranged children or the saga of Tom the ad-agency drone (Brendan McNamara) attending meetings in place of his court-ordered boss and getting knocked around by his overly enthusiastic sponsor Cutter (Danny Wattley). 

It seems more likely to me that viewers were drawn to Loudermilk because Ron Livingston is so likable, and watching him do his Ron Livingston thing is a good time even when his character’s having a bad one. I’m all for Livingston being on TV, but I’m not sure a fourth season of Loudermilk is where that should happen. Bill Lawrence adapted a Carl Hiaasen book for Livingston’s Swingers co-star Vince Vaughn, and Bad Monkey is coming to AppleTV+ in August. Let’s put Livingston next in line for a potential Emmy-bait production, on a platform that isn’t going to go out of business mid-run.


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