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.
Irish comedy star Chris O’Dowd drew liberally from his own childhood when he created Moone Boy, the delightful and very funny sitcom he also co-wrote and stars in, which premieres exclusively today on the streaming service Hulu.
Set in the Western Ireland town of Boyle, circa 1989, the series revolves around 11-year-old Martin Paul Kenny Dalglish Moone (David Rawle), a free spirit who lives with his parents, Debra and Liam (Deirdre O’Kane, Peter McDonald), and his three older sisters, Trisha, Fidelma and Sinead (Aoife Duffin, Clare Monnelly, Sarah White), who casually torment him in the way older siblings are obligated to do. Despite this, and the torture he routinely endures at school at the hands of the Bonner twins (Brendan and Cillian Frayne), Martin is generally a sunny free spirit, thanks in no small part to his imaginary friend: a tall, bearded adult named Sean Murphy (O’Dowd). Sean reliably has Martin’s back at every turn, offering him plenty of moral support and occasionally warning the lad against some of his more foolhardy fancies.
The series opens on the eve of Martin’s 12th birthday, when, after years of receiving uninspired gifts from his family, Martin is stunned to see his father bring out a wrapped present that clearly contains a bicycle (“I don’t believe it!” Sean gasps. “It must be a bicycle-shaped sock!”).
Each half-hour episode follows Martin and Sean as they navigate, not unlike Calvin and Hobbes, the often daunting wilderness of childhood. Fans of British comedy can look for some of their favorite performers popping up in guest roles, such as Steve Coogan’s episode 2 appearance as a local fishmonger named Francie “Touchy” Feeley, who earned his nickname from his “handsy” ways.
Moone Boy made its UK debut in 2012, where its initial six-episode run was so enthusiastically received by both viewers and critics that a second and third season were ordered (a new episode will be added each Wednesday on Hulu).
Moone Boy may tell its rib-tickling jokes with a strong Irish brogue (don’t worry, the series is closed-captioned if the accents get a bit thick for you), but its lovely truths about growing up are completely universal. Check it out, especially if you’re a fan of O’Dowd, who is building a substantial fan base on this side of the pond via his work in such projects as the movie hit Bridesmaids and the current HBO Sunday night sitcom Family Tree.