Guess what? People are getting divorced! A lot! Some people are getting divorced multiple times! You may have gotten a divorce just this afternoon. Divorces can be messy things that tear families apart. But one thing divorces are great for are family comedies. Let's be honest with each other here, family comedies have gotten pretty boring because who has a traditional family like the ones we usually see on TV (father, mother, son, daughter) anymore? Stepmothers and half-brothers are the new fathers and sisters, and what about all those kids from foreign countries that people are adopting? Where's the family comedy that represents that?
Modern Family and its cross-sectioned examination of today's families (there's even a gay couple on that one) is a monster hit and Emmy-award vortex for ABC, so it's totally understandable that the network would want to plow that field again in hopes of sprouting another family comedy that's more representative of how things are today. The network has it in Trophy Wife, one of the more pleasant surprises of this season's slate of new comedies. And I really do mean "pleasant." Trophy Wife isn't milk-out-the-nose funny, but you'll find yourself smirking for about 30 minutes with sporadic chuckles, making it a lot better than most of the other stuff out there.
If you just want to know what the show is about, allow me to summarize: Malin Akerman (Childrens Hospital) plays Kate, a younger gal who does totally fun things like karaoke. During a particularly inspired rendition of "Jump" (Pointer Sisters, not Van Halen or Kris-Kross, just one of the many good decisions this show made its pilot), Kate falls over a railing and breaks the nose of Pete (Bradley Whitford), who's an old man by comparison. Wham bam thank you ma'am, and next thing you know, they're married. Pete comes with tons of baggage, though, in the form of two ex-wives (Marcia Gay Harden's Dr. Diane and Michaela Watkins' space-cadet Jackie), two teenaged step-children through Diane, and one adopted Chinese boy through Jackie. It's like a family exploded three times, and Trophy Wife is presumably about how Kate will manage being a new (step-)mom in this unusual (but increasingly more common) family dynamic.
But where other slap-happy comedies would take this setting and this cast of characters and make a ridiculous show full of spiteful ex-wives and out-of-control kids and probably an old dog that pees everywhere, Trophy Wife portrays an expanded family unit that works together. They don't hate each other! Whaaaat? '90s sitcom writers are groaning in their graves. You see, this ex-step-in-law ball of confusion might be a little weird to us, but it's life for Kate, Pete, Diane, Jackie, and the kids. No biggie. The typical chaos we're familiar with based on other family comedies is there, and it's even multiplied due to the size of this particular family, but it's not hampered by the typical evilness of the typical television ex-wife, or by deep-seeded hatred between various family members. No, this is a celebration of family and that is entirely what makes Trophy Wife work.
Trophy Wife is also smartly paced. Think about all the stories that were going on in the series premiere: Kate got drunk protecting Hillary, Warren was crushing on some milky grapefruits and that resulted in a school meeting with parents, Pete and Jackie blew up Bert's hamster, and Kate had something to prove to both Hillary and Diane. And somewhere, the story of how this family came to be had to be explained, too. But each thread worked on its own and came together in one great big family hug at the end, and it wasn't at all reliant on Kate being some sort of supermom. Trophy Wife could have easily saddled Kate with all the responsibility, forced her to be the family problem-fixer, but it wisely just slid Kate into the equation of a family that was already running pretty well. And thank you, ABC, for giving us a sitcom that doesn't try too hard to beat us over the head with shoehorned jokes. Story is more important with Trophy Wife, and it finds ways to add laughs as it goes.
I have zero complaints about the cast, and I've been very vocal about how much I love Michaela Watkins as Jackie (her subtle humor and deadpan is hilarious). Akerman is impossible not to like, and Whitford is surprisingly restrained as the old sturdy oak at the center of the family. He has the ability to open up, though, so I expect him to get wackier and invoke the spirit of his Billy Madison character as the series progresses. Harden has the toughest job of everyone in the group as stickler Diane—here's hoping that the writers can somehow throw some comedy her way. And the kids are good. Ryan Lee, who you know from Community and maybe Workaholics, can bring his teeth to any scene. And I'll just put myself out there and say I think Albert Tsai as Bert is one of the delights of the fall season. He's just precocious enough.
So yeah, Trophy Wife is off to a great start and—double-check your Dead Pool alert!—if things stay somewhat consistent, should be one of this season's surviving shows. Now go give your family a hug.
– "Hey are you, uhhh, excited about Daylight's Savings?" Solid pickup line for all you single people out there.
– For all you continuity sticklers, check out the varying volume of water in the vodka water bottle when Kate drinks it! If it had been full, like it was at some points, Kate would have died. Trophy Wife would have been a very different show.
– Do you like Bert, or does he annoy the shit out of you?
– What is your family dynamic like?
– How many divorces have you had?
– I'd still like to see this anchored behind Modern Family on Wednesday nights, where it belongs; Tuesday is going to be a tough night for it. The post-ModFam spot is currently occupied by Super Fun Night—barf—and ABC seems committed the idea that Rebel Wilson's new sitcom is somehow funny.
– Confession: I don't hate the show's title as much as everyone else does! What's your take?
AIRED ON 5/13/2014
Season 1 : Episode 22