New ABC Comedies: “Trophy Wife” and “Back in the Game”

It’s that time again: pilot season. Over the next few weeks, some network shows will get trotted out online to increase buzz before their fall premiere dates. I like this system because it gives hardcore TV obsessives (re: me) a chance to either isolate the new shows we want to add to our schedule or start ignoring the shows that don’t deserve our time. ABC apparently released three of its new comedy pilots today (“Trophy Wife,” “Back in the Game,” and “The Goldbergs”) but “The Goldbergs” has already mysteriously disappeared from the internet…before I could screen it for myself. That’s unfortunate, because out of the three sitcoms, I’d wager that I’ll watch more than one episode of “The Goldbergs” based on ’80s nostalgia alone. As for the other two…

“Trophy Wife”

I can only assume that instead of taking any perceived comedy risks (like low-rated but awesome none-the-less “Happy Endings”) ABC executives had one idea for this season: start with its Emmy-winning success “Modern Family”  and work backwards until something slightly different emerged. And thus “Trophy Wife” came into existence.

You know how Gloria on “Modern Family” is often joked about as being Jay’s trophy wife? And how she has to adjust to marrying a man who already has two grown children with families of their own? Well, imagine that scenario, except the children are younger and we enter the story a bit earlier in its transitional period. We join Kate’s (Malin Akerman) world on the day she finally starts making headway as a stepmother to her husband’s three children. You see, only one short year ago, she met Pete (Bradley Whitford) and instead of being scared away by his two ex-wives, she ended up married to him and entangled in his modern family. Ex-wife #1 Diane (Marcia Gay Harden), mother to the older twins, appears to be a workaholic surgeon with a clear disdain for Kate. Ex-wife #2 Jackie (Michaela Watkins) plays the ultra-kooky mom to the adopted Chinese son she has with Pete. Kate has her best friend Meg (Natalie Morales) to lend an ear when she has to vent about these exes and her failed attempts at being thrust into the role of stepmother.

“Trophy Wife” isn’t quite as sprawling as “Modern Family.” I’m guessing that we’ll stick to seeing how the two ex-wives interact with the core unit of Kate, Pete, and the kids, rather than catching glimpses of their lives away from the couple. And, unlike “Modern Family,” there are no talking heads or other mockumentary devices. Kate narrates the pilot and I am curious to see whether this will continue in every episode or if it was just meant to ease our transition into her world.

I’ve always liked Malin Akerman, and after recently discovering my great love for “Childrens Hospital,” I know she has the comedic chops to carry a sitcom. Similarly, I think Michaela Watkins elevates any bit role she plays, but the pilot forces her to play more caricature than character. I would like to see her as a more three dimensional person and less as plain kooky. I only recognize Natalie Morales from her brief stint on “Parks and Rec” but I hope they find organic ways to keep her character involved in the weekly plots.

My verdict: Good cast in a recycled premise. I don’t feel motivated to check out any more episodes. If I hear good things about it after a few more outings, I’ll be sure to revisit it.

“Back in the Game”

Is this supposed to remind me of that Clint Eastwood baseball movie that came out awhile back but everyone said was horrible and I can’t even remember what it was called? (Okay, it’s called Trouble with the Curve, but I literally just IMDb’d it.) Anyway, I’d say that this show is mixed with that movie (in that the protagonist has issues with her father stemming from his obsession with baseball) and with ABC’s other recently departed show “How to Live with Your Parents (for the Rest of Your Life)” (in that the protagonist is forced to move back home after a divorce). Terry Jr (Maggie Lawson) returns home, and is forced to deal with her emotionally scarring father (James Caan) as well as her son’s desire to play baseball. When he is rejected from the team, she offers to coach another team full of other misfit rejects.

This is partially my own bias but I can’t really get that excited over anything dealing with the premise of baseball. But other than being bored during any and all baseball sequences, I wasn’t enthralled by the supporting characters or plot. I really like Maggie Lawson, and she completely sold me on her character’s complicated daddy issues. Out of everything, I would most like to follow the evolution of their relationship, as well as her father’s relationship to his grandson. All of the other adult characters seem a little too outrageous — they need to start resembling real people real soon. (Why was Lenora Crichlow from “Being Human” cast on this show as a wealthy widow/moral support? Is it really just that en vogue to have a random British character floating around comedies these days? I’m looking at you, Lucy Punch on “Ben & Kate.” Sigh, “Ben & Kate.” RIP.)

My verdict: Pass. I can’t watch every show on TV and this just isn’t up my alley.



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About Staciellyn Chapman

Grad student at the School of Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason University. This blog is an attempt to condense the craziness that is my TV viewing habits (with the occasional aside into film, music, and general life).

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