Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Pilot Review: One Big Happy

One Big Happy (Tuesdays at 9:30 on NBC)

It's a shame when bad shows happen to good people. With such likeable personalities as Elisha Cuthbert and Nick Zano in front of the camera, and everyone's favorite dancing talk show host Ellen Degeneres working behind it, you would think NBC's latest offering would be, at the very least, enjoyable. But One Big Happy can't even manage that.

Think of the most generic, dated sitcom you possibly can. It probably resembles One Big Happy, a show so predictable and uninspired, a kind-of Will & Grace in reverse, that it could not be more banal. Lizzy (Happy Endings' Cuthbert) hasn't found the right woman yet, and neither has her best friend Luke (Zano, also late of Happy Endings, but probably best remembered for What I Like About You). So they decide to start their own family, per a pact they made years ago. But just as Lizzy enters into fertility treatment to try and become pregnant, Luke meets Prudence (Kelly Brook) and falls instantly in love with the soon-to-be-deported British beauty, complicating his commitment to Lizzy and their unborn child.

The one positive thing I can say about One Big Happy is that the characterization of Lizzy is very forward-thinking. Almost everything else in the pilot's script relies on cliches, but Lizzy is not a stereotypical sitcom lesbian. There's not a Home Depot joke or a flannel shirt in sight (and the term "lipstick lesbian" is never uttered once either, thankfully). But considering Lizzy's sexuality is the only twist in the plot that sets One Big Happy apart from any of a dozen similar (failed) 90s sitcom, it's odd that it's not treated as more of an anomaly. That's a refreshing sign of the times, but it also fails to bring any real interest to the show. Whereas Will & Grace could be built around the entire of premise of two friends living together, one straight and one gay, and be groundbreaking, One Big Happy's similar treatment of the concept makes you say "So what?" in 2015.

And that's a big problem for a show without anything else unique or fresh to offer. The setup of Prudence and Luke's relationship is completely forced; the "modern family" that comprises Luke, Prudence, and Lizzy doesn't feel all that modern in a television landscape that has been dealing with relationships and friendships in this way for over twenty years, and with mixed families (including sexualities) for almost as long. Audiences crave something different, something with a distinct point of view. Look at how well black-ish and The Last Man on Earth are doing, both shows that take well-worn concepts and present them with a new twist and a fresh voice. One Big Happy doesn't have that, just pieces of ideas from older, better shows (Friends, Ellen, Will & Grace, etc).

And it's a shame, because the leading players have been so likeable in other projects. Elisha Cuthbert is energetic and adorable as Lizzy, and she really plays up the control freak angles of her character to somewhat comedic effect. Zano is cute, but Luke is written as a total idiot and gets the pilot's most groan-worthy lines. (Lizzy: "You don't have to be bitchy!" Luke: "Well, that's the bitch calling the bitch a bitch.") Neither are given much to work with by creator Liz Feldman (a former writer for Ellen's talk show and, more recently, for 2 Broke Girls), who does not have an ear for natural dialogue or a knack for funny situations. Her script is derivative to the point of being self-referential; in the final act, when Lizzy tries to get Prudence from boarding a plane, the writing plainly states that it's ripping off countless romantic comedies that have come before it when Lizzy says, "I did what every guy does in every movie." It makes for a wooden, unfunny half-hour that evokes a blase feeling from its audience. This is one that can be easily missed.

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