How to squander a good cast (for the rest of your season)

When T.S. Eliot wrote that “April is the cruellest month,” he wasn’t referring to Hollywood, but he could have been. This is the time of year when commercial networks go into run-out-the-clock mode, throwing onto their schedules leftover episodes and/or brand-new shows they don’t realistically expect to catch on.
Case in point: How to Live With Your Parents (For the Rest of Your Life), a feeble sitcom premiering tonight on ABC. The reliable Sarah Chalke (Scrubs) stars as Polly, a young woman who is forced, with little daughter Natalie (Rachel Eggleston), to move back in with her 50-something parents Elaine and Max (Elizabeth Perkins of Weeds, Brad Garrett from Everybody Loves Raymond) after her marriage to the feckless Julian (Jon Dore) falls apart.
It’s a solid if not exactly springtime-fresh premise that sputters along fitfully in the premiere, with Chalke, Perkins and Garrett working valiantly to try to make their cartoonish characters seem even remotely human and relatable. You see, Elaine is a bohemian narcissist given to making “shocking” comments, usually about her own sex life, every time she’s offering her daughter advice.
“I slept with every guy in my improv class before I found Max,” Elaine volunteers while urging Polly to dive back into the dating scene. “EVERY guy. And Karen.”
Max, meanwhile, is much more supportive and bearable, although feeling insecure since he underwent surgery for testicular cancer. Yep, folks, I’m not making that up. They go for the old “lost ball” jokes.
How to Live With Your Parents… was created by Claudia Lonow, who made her first splash back in 1998 with Rude Awakening, a Showtime sitcom that was one of the most relentlessly crude comedies with a name cast that I’ve ever seen. The dialogue was just egregiously profane, a lot of it delivered by the great Lynn Redgrave, starring as the alcoholic and oversexed mother of the main character (Sherilyn Fenn). It was shock comedy, shamelessly substituting smut for anything approaching genuine wit.
How to Live With Your Parents… is nowhere near as septic as Rude Awakening – partly, I’m guessing, because commercial networks have far more stringent standards and practices than pay cable does – but it’s still juvenile. (I’ll admit I did laugh a couple of times, not because a line was especially funny, but because Perkins had given it an ingenious spin that made it SOUND funny).
ABC has thrown the general witlessness of this new show into even starker relief by programming it behind Modern Family, still one of the most sublimely written and performed ensemble comedies currently airing on any channel. Here’s hoping the very talented Chalke, Perkins and Garrett get the kind of vehicles each of them deserve, and soon.

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