Tag Archives: ABC

TBS uncorks Season 5 of Cougar Town tonight

'Cougar Town' begins its fifth season tonight on TBS.

Courteney Cox (center) leads the ensemble cast of ‘Cougar Town,’ which starts its fifth season tonight on TBS.

Season 5 of Cougar Town – the show’s second on TBS, after a three-year run on ABC – picks up tonight with the biggest game-changer introduced on the show near the end of last season: After years of adoring her from afar, college-age Travis (Dan Byrd) finally has embarked on an affair with his dream girl, Laurie (Busy Philipps).
Laurie, of course, is a somewhat older woman and among the closest friends of Jules (Courteney Cox), Travis’ eager-to-please mom, who is having a hard time with the new couple’s increasingly torrid public displays of affection. And after a fateful day when Jules stumbles (literally) upon them having sex in Jules’ shower, well – we’re talking about a situation not even Big Tippi, the large hotel-room vase that Jules has converted into her latest wineglass of choice, can help with.
Not that she doesn’t try to be supportive of the affair. It turns out, however, that Travis isn’t entirely comfortable hearing his mother compliment him on being an attentive lover.
Elsewhere in tonight’s premiere, Jules’ ex-husband, Bobby (Brian Van Holt), receives an unexpected windfall from an even more unexpected source, but fails to pick up on increasingly heavy hints from Grayson (Josh Hopkins), Jules’ current spouse, that Bobby should use some of that money to pay off his multi-volume bar bill. Meanwhile, neighbor couple Andy and Ellie (Ian Gomez, Christa Miller) are enduring some sleepless nights since Andy made the mistake of letting their young son, Stan (Griffin Kunitz), watch A Nightmare on Elm Street.
A show that is saddled with a misleading title so terrible that it has become a running joke in the opening credits of each episode, Cougar Town quickly morphed from its ill-defined initial concept (a 40-ish woman re-enters the contemporary dating pool) into a sharp, often nastily funny character-driven sitcom that’s mostly about a bunch of friends and neighbors in Florida sitting around and drinking wine. Lots and lots of wine. Luckily, the jokes consistently stay on point, deftly delivered by this strong ensemble.
Cougar Town frequently makes references that harken back to previous episodes and situations on the series, so longtime fans of the show, obviously, are most likely to get all the jokes. The central relationships between the characters are all so sharply defined, however, that newcomers to the sitcom’s setting – the tourist mecca of Gulfhaven, Fla. – will feel perfectly at home in no time.
Just make sure to stay on Ellie’s good side. Because she will cut you.

Title search

Trophy Wife, a very promising new sitcom premiering tonight on ABC, is blessed with a strong cast and some sharp writing, but saddled with arguably the worst, most misleading title of the season (more about the latter below).
Malin Akerman (The Comeback) stars as Kate, a beautiful girl who loves nothing more than partying nightly with her best friend, Meg (Natalie Morales, The Middleman) – until one karaoke night when Kate literally falls into the arms of Pete (Bradley Whitford, The West Wing), a slightly older environmental lawyer.
Romance ensues, and Kate soon becomes Pete’s wife – more specifically, his third wife, a position that comes with more baggage than a cruise ship. Pete’s first ex-wife, Diane (Marcia Gay Harden), is a brilliant medical doctor who regards the younger Kate with withering dismissal, an attitude immediately adopted by her teenage daughter, Hillary (Bailee Madison), although Hillary’s twin brother, Warren (Ryan Lee), is instantly smitten by his new stepmom. In fact, Warren’s school essays start to take on a disconcertingly erotic tone and feature a female figure who seems vaguely … familiar.
Pete’s second ex-wife, Jackie (Saturday Night Live alumna Michaela Watkins), is a neurotic, New Age-y mess and has a hyper-intelligent young adopted Asian son (scene-stealer Albert Tsai) who is completely unintimidated by the grown-ups around him.
Tonight’s pilot follows Kate as she tries to establish a meaningful place for herself in Pete’s crowded life, which means trying to make some connection with stepdaughter Hillary, who isn’t having any of it. The episode gives most of the cast members a chance to shine, none more brightly than Akerman, a starlet-pretty actress who also comes across as smart, funny, warm and accessible. Whitford, always a joy to watch, shows us how much Pete genuinely adores Kate, although his character seems to spend much of his screen time reacting to his extended family members (here’s hoping he becomes less passive in future episodes).
As the ex-wives, Harden, an Oscar winner who elevates any scene just by walking into it, makes Diane a formidable adversary for Kate while never crossing the line into stale bitchiness, but frankly I had a very hard time understanding why Peter ever would have married someone as scatterbrained as Watkins’ Jackie (the writers need to fix that, and soon).
In other words, from a creative standpoint, Trophy Wife is a likable enough show, but there’s a very real chance some viewers will never sample it because of its terrible title. Kate isn’t a trophy wife in any sense of the phrase. Pete cherishes everything about her, and she’s a strong, intelligent woman who actively engages with everyone else in his life, instead of just standing around looking decorative. Calling this show Trophy Wife sets up expectations of a sitcom that is far less appealing and engaging than this one is. And if you don’t think a misleading title can hobble a show’s chances, just talk to the creative team behind Cougar Town.
Trophy Wife already has something of an uphill struggle to find an audience in its insanely competitive Tuesday time period, opposite such established hits as The Voice, NCIS: LA, surging sophomore sitcom The Mindy Project and the long-running CW cult hit Supernatural. It doesn’t help that the lead-in to Trophy Wife is one of ABC’s feeblest new shows.
That would be The Goldbergs. Actually, I don’t want to be too hard on this doomed sitcom, because I suspect a lot of love went into it behind the scenes. Its creator, Adam F. Goldberg, based the show on his own upbringing back in the 1980s, when he grew up in a fractious but loving family headed by a blustering dad (Jeff Garlin, Curb Your Enthusiasm) who can’t articulate his love for his three kids and a doting mom (the glorious Wendi McLendon-Covey, Bridesmaids) whose love knows no bounds – or, unfortunately for her kids, boundaries.
The obvious template for this show is the Emmy-winning 1988-93 sitcom The Wonder Years. What Goldberg has overlooked, alas, is that we can’t all be the Arnolds from that cherished hit of yesteryear. There isn’t much that’s truly original or noteworthy about the Goldberg family except that most of them SCREAM A LOT FOR NO GOOD REASON. In fact, if the Nielsen ratings were measured in decibels, The Goldbergs probably would be the top-ranked show of the 2013-14 TV season.
Everything else, though, feels fairly generic, including George Segal’s dotty old grandpa character. How generic? The pilot revolves heavily around the father figure’s reluctance to teach his teenage son (Troy Gentile) how to drive. Coincidentally, Fox has a midseason comedy, Surviving Jack, waiting in the wings about an intimidating dad (Chris Meloni, in that case) who has a hard time expressing love to his kids. The pilot for that show has a pivotal scene in which Meloni’s character teaches his teenage son to drive. Did I mention that Surviving Jack is set in a recent past decade (the ‘90s) and based on the true-life teen experiences of its creator?
I suspect The Goldbergs tested through the roof with relatives of Adam F. Goldberg, but there’s not much here for the rest of us. There’s a good chance this show will be gone by Thanksgiving. I’m just hoping it doesn’t take Trophy Wife down with it.

‘Family Tools’ could use some retooling

I’m not sure what Kyle Bornheimer did at some point to tick off the universe, but the actor keeps landing TV gigs that look like something he’s doing to pay off a karmic debt. Since I first spotted him a few years ago making his primetime series debut in Worst Week, a CBS adaptation of a British hit about an affable doofus who kept inadvertently screwing up plans for his own wedding, the talented and likable actor has been cast in one weak show after another, often playing a cheerful yet befuddled soul who can’t quite navigate the world around him.
That’s certainly his role in Family Tools, premiering tonight on ABC, which casts Bornheimer as Jack Shea, a 30something guy who has spent most of his life trying to win the approval of his gruff father, Tony (J.K. Simmons, The Closer), a self-made man who has built the family handyman business, Mr. Jiffy Fix, from the ground up.
Jack is fresh off a string off career failures at police academy (he shot himself in the foot), the Army (he shot his lieutenant in the foot) and seminary school (where “they failed to appreciate my ideas on making the Bible a little less long and preachy”) when he receives a text from his Aunt Terry (Leah Remini, The King of Queens) summoning him back to his hometown of Mapleport. Tony, it seems, has just suffered his fifth heart attack, and Jackie firmly insists that it’s time for Jack to take over the business.
Jack is unhappy to realize that his dad has no faith in his ability to run Mr. Jiffy Fix and to discover that he’ll be sharing a cramped basement space at home with his eccentric younger cousin, Mason (Johnny Pemberton). He also gets absolutely no respect from Darren (Edi Gathegi), Tony’s troublemaking assistant, but he’s determined to do his best, although you’re likely to spend much of tonight’s premiere wondering, as I did, whom Jack is going to wind up shooting in the foot by the end of the half hour.
Yet another adaptation of a Britcom (White Van Men), Family Tools is pleasant enough but painfully sitcom-generic. It’s fun to see J.K. Simmons working his comedy chops again after years in such darker fare as HBO’s intense prison drama Oz and NBC’s Law & Order, and Remini proved she knew her way around a punchline during her long run on The King of Queens. Mostly, though, the show – or at least this first episode – looks like another career non-event for Bornheimer, who really deserves so much better than this.
Family Tools is the second sitcom in the past few months built around an adult son’s puppy-like crusade to win his dad’s approval. The other was 1600 Penn, a promising and well-cast NBC family comedy that got thrown off balance by the over-the-top, beamed-direct-from-Mars performance of Josh Gad as the black-sheep son. Watching Bornheimer struggling to make Family Tools work through sheer charm and comic timing made me wish he had landed Gad’s part in the NBC sitcom. I seriously doubt that we’ll be talking about either of those comedies come next fall, though, so it’s probably academic.

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.

An ‘Hour’ you’ll never get back from ABC

In my line of work, it’s not unusual to encounter a terrible TV show every now and then, but Zero Hour, which premieres tonight on ABC, is in a dubious class all by itself.
This misbegotten hybrid of The Da Vinci Code, The X-Files and the National Treasure movies stars former Emmy nominee Anthony Edwards (ER) as Hank Galliston, the publisher of Modern Skeptic, a magazine dedicated to debunking the very sort of unintentionally hysterical urban legends and conspiracy theories into which Hank finds himself swept up after his wife (Jacinda Barrett, Suits) is kidnapped by shadowy figures led by a creepy foreign terrorist. Mind you, this is after a lengthy, convoluted prologue involving Nazis, Rosicrucians and a spooky-eyed infant right out of Rosemary’s Baby.
I’d try to give you a more coherent summary of the pilot, but within a matter of minutes I had writer’s cramp from trying to transcribe the hilariously melodramatic dialogue. At that point, I started pinching myself to make sure I wasn’t hallucinating this ridiculously surreal stew. By the 15-minute mark, the pinches had turned to full-blown bitch-slaps.
Zero Hour has all the narrative focus of a manic hummingbird that has just knocked back a double espresso, zipping frantically from one scene to the next, desperately trying to (a) make us think the frenzied pacing reflects authentic dramatic urgency and (b) distract us from realizing that none of the hogwash being hurled at us from all directions adds up to anything meaningful.
I’ll give the show this: It isn’t boring, but it doesn’t earn our attention with well-crafted characters or situations in which we can become emotionally invested. Instead, Zero Hour settles for making us gape slack-jawed at the train wreck unfolding in front of us. By the end of tonight’s premiere, we’ve gotten murky hints that Hank may be a clone of another character who lived during World War II, while his two young assistants (Addison Timlir and Scott Michael Foster, formerly Cappie on ABC Family’s Greek) have connected with an elderly Teutonic clockmaker who crosses himself and whispers an urgent warning that our heroes have stumbled across “a secret that could bring about the end of the world.” (Actually, since he talks like Professor Lilloman from Mel Brooks’ High Anxiety, it comes out as “the ENT of the WORLT!”).
It’s hard to believe that a show this relentlessly cuckoo could happen by accident, but if the creators of Zero Hour set out intentionally to craft a guilty pleasure, they’ve gone about it the wrong way. The series seems to want us to hop on board this runaway clown car as an act of blind faith, but if we don’t care about the characters or the contrived perils they face, we’re left with little but a kind of horrified fascination that is sure to wear out its welcome quickly. Meanwhile, I just hope no viewers try to turn Zero Hour into a drinking game, because if you take a shot of booze every time something preposterous happens, you’ll risk acute alcohol poisoning.