‘Superior Donuts’: The New Buddy Comedy Bringing a TV Vet and a Millennial Together

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Maarten De Boer
Judd Hirsch (right) and Jermaine Fowler (left)

Judd Hirsch is a two-time Emmy and Tony winner, not to mention an Oscar nominee, best known for his star-making turn as Alex Rieger on the hit late-1970s sitcom Taxi. But that’s not how comedian Jermaine Fowler remembers the TV vet. “Taxi? I know Judd Hirsch from Independence Day!” the 28-year-old Fowler says with a laugh.

The unlikely pair—one a veritable icon, the other a fresh voice in the world of stand-up and television—costar in CBS’s new buddy comedy Superior Donuts. Hirsch, 81, plays Arthur, the owner of an old doughnut shop in a rapidly gentrifying Chicago neighborhood, and Fowler stars as Franco, the millennial employee who pushes Arthur out of his comfort zone.

We asked Fowler to grill his costar about what went into making these Superior Donuts—and their different perspectives on comedy.

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Fowler, Sagal and Hirsch in Superior Donuts

FOWLER: I got involved with Superior Donuts because the script was hilarious and I loved the topics they were tackling. Why did you get involved?
HIRSCH: I had nothing else to do! [Laughs] I was wondering whether I should retire, and someone said, “If you retire, then you can’t pay your bills.” So I took the show.

I hear you were on your way to Florida. They called you and said they had a script for you, and you just made a U-turn right back to L.A.
Well, the other choice was they put me in a [retirement] home! It would have been a hell of a lot more restful than doing this, let me tell ya!

Did you look me up before signing on?
I did. I saw some of your stand-up on YouTube. I was surprised.

That means a lot to me that Judd Hirsch was watching my material.
I was relieved when I saw the stuff you do, because it’s personal, and there’s nothing better than playing opposite a guy who’s comedy is personal. That’s how we got to know each other so quickly. And that’s the fun of the show too. We can draw from a lot of who we are.

How would you describe the relationship between Arthur and Franco?
Tenuous! But loving is where the arrows are pointing. Arthur just has to get there with Franco, because they start off so far apart in nature, age and cultural background. And for an older man stuck in his old ways, that journey is hard.

I’m 28, so I come from a generation where comedy is online. But at the same time, I’ve learned from watching Richard Pryor, Eddie Murphy and Martin Lawrence. Who did you model your comedy on?
Sid Caesar. I thought we looked alike. It was watching The Sid Caesar Show and thought, this guy could speak through me! I wanted to do what he did. I’m pretty sure that no matter when you start there’s always an idol-worship thing that happens.

I’m gonna go home and watch some Sid Caesar now! I love that we bridge three generations of comedy on our show: you, Katey Sagal and me. Do you hope we’ll get a wider audience because of that?
Oh, yes! I mean, we’ll get older people, especially the ones in old-age homes. They love the shows that I’m in! [Laughs] But I hope we’re going to appeal to even the youngest. If you don’t, you’re in trouble! I know this from the shows that I’ve done: You have to have that wide range, teenagers and young adults too.

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Hirsch on Taxi in 1979

How does filming a sitcom today compare to filming Taxi?
Filming a sitcom today is very much like it was back then because, for me, making America laugh requires the very elements it did in the ’70s: a funny situation, actors who love each other, writers who write for them and producers who know how to do this thing called comedy—with humor and heart and the ability to get all that across in 22 minutes.

Getting advice from you is great. What’s your secret to longevity?
I’ve given you advice—only you never take it! But my secret is green grapes. [Laughs] I think the more you eat the stuff that wine is made of, the longer you can actually go in life.

Superior Donuts, Series Premiere, Thursday, Feb. 2, 9/8c, CBS, Timeslot premiere: Monday, Feb. 6, 9/8c