Tonight, ABC debuted a new sitcom in the coveted timeslot following the smash-hit 'Modern Family' and its title is a mouthful: 'How to Live with Your Parents (for the Rest of Your Life).' So are there as many laughs as there are words on the titlecard?
As the title suggests, 'How to Live with Your Parents (for the Rest of Your Life),' henceforth referred to as HTLWYP(FTROYL), is about a single mother named Polly (Sarah Chalke, 'Scrubs,' 'How I Met Your Mother') who has to move back in with her parents (along with her young daughter) due to the financial constraints of 2013. It's a pain and situation many of us know all too well. So how is the show going to plumb these depressing depths for laughs? With a tried and tested formula: Polly's parents are free-spirited hippies and Polly is concerned that they'll prove poor influences on her impressionable young daughter.
Single motherhood is an all-too-common setting for sitcoms these days, however from the very first episode HTLWYP(FTROYL) is an improvement from similar sitcoms like the short-lived 'Ben & Kate' in one key aspect: Polly's daughter Natalie is actually present and a part of the story. Back when I reviewed the first few episodes of 'Ben & Kate' I found myself wondering why the creators wished Kate to be a mother when they conveniently wrote her daughter out of each episode; Natalie in HTLWYP(FTROYL) is a prominent character and even earns some laughs, played by Rachel Eggleston. Eggleston is already a TV vet (having appeared on 'House' and 'Justified') and seems completely comfortable amongst this fast-talking ensemble cast despite her extreme youth.
My feeling after the end of HTLWYP(FTROYL) was that the product I had just watched was half of a great sitcom; some parts work better than others, some feel tacked on. Beginning with the good, there are the eponymous parents of Polly, Elaine and Max, played by Elizabeth Perkins and Brad Garrett.
Both Perkins and Garrett are recognizable TV stars and the pair together are easily the best part of HTLWYP(FTROYL). From their very first scene, Elaine and Max feel like a couple; they are comfortable together, they speak over each other, and there is an effortlessness to the delivery of their punchlines that can only come from years of honing their craft. Garrett is best known for his roles on 'Everybody Loves Raymond' and ''Til Death,' whereas Perkins regained her hot-commodity status thanks to her excellent work on 'Weeds.' Elaine and Max are free-spirits who love life, love their daughter and love each other. Their scenes are fun, breezy and funny--once the overbearing Polly leaves Natalie in their care for a night, HTLWYP(FTROYL) finds its funniest scenes between Elaine and Max as they babysit. Garrett and Perkins have an instantaneous chemistry that makes me want to see more episodes of HTLWYP(FTROYL)--they are that good together.
Unfortunately, it is the structure and the characters surrounding Elaine and Max that falls to pieces. Much like 'Ben & Kate' before it, the single mother in HTLWYP(FTROYL) is the weakest link of the sitcom. Sarah Chalke works as the straight-man in a comedic situation, as proven with her role on 'How I Met Your Mother,' where she was the mostly-normal person amongst the regular cast of lunatics. Chalke cannot be entirely blamed for her character falling flat in the first episode of HTLWYP(FTROYL), as the Polly character is mostly a cut-out. She has left her husband, Natalie's father, for reasons yet to be explained, yet when she is in trouble it is Julian (played by John Dore) who she turns to for assistance. She judges her parents for their free-wheeling lifestyle yet is more than happy to depend on them for everything. If the creators of HTLWYP(FTROYL) were trying to capture the attitude of a spoiled generation through Polly then they have succeeded--if we as an audience are meant to empathize with or like her, they have failed.
After only one episode, certainly there is much work to be done in regards to developing a supporting cast for Polly and her family. John Dore is an unexpected treat as Julian, but again his best scene comes in a car with Garrett's Max; the strength of Garrett and Perkins seems necessary to keep this sitcom afloat (and to keep the laughs coming).
After watching the pilot of 'How to Live with Your Parents (for the Rest of Your Life)' I am impressed with the work of Garrett and Perkins enough to want to watch it again. Beyond the actors' performances, it seems as though the writers have a better handle on Elaine and Max than they do Polly; the interplay already seems polished, which stands out against the shakiness of the scenes that don't feature the pair (such as a scene when Polly is at work, where they make a bad joke about running a blender five times in a row). All in all, HTLWYP(FTROYL) is about halfway there... the parents are excellent. Here's hoping the rest catches up.
FINAL GRADE: B-