[07/01/11 - 07:52 AM]
The Futon's First Look: "Smothered" (ABC)
By Brian Ford Sullivan (TFC)

Please note: As a courtesy, please do not reproduce these comments to newsgroups, forums or other online places. Links only please.

Welcome once again to our annual "first look" at the broadcast networks' offerings for the 2011-2012 season, now in its sixth year! Each day we'll walk you through one of the new series set to premiere next season (or one that didn't make the cut) and go over our initial impressions after viewing the pilot. Keep in mind that a lot can change from what's being screened right now - recasting, reshooting, etc. - but we still want to give you a heads up on what you should (and shouldn't) keep on your radar in the coming months. So enough of our rambling, on with the show!

[IMPORTANT NOTE: The following is based on the original sales presentation which was screened to us privately or supplied by a third party NOT an informational, not-for-review screener provided by the network in question.]

(written by Andrew Reich & Ted Cohen; directed by Andy Ackerman; TRT: 23:27)

The network's description: "Love isn't a competition. No, wait; that's exactly what it is for Zack's (Kyle Howard) and Gillian's (Brooke D'Orsay) parents, who swoop down on L.A. for their granddaughter's first birthday. Zack and Gillian are about to learn that "family" can sometimes be a four-letter word. Zack's parents (Marcia Gay Harden and Adam Arkin) are wealthy East Coast Jewish and Gillian's (Julie White and John C. McGinley) are small-town Southern charm, but Zack and Gillian have a great relationship despite their different upbringings. Of course, with their parents visiting, Zack and Gillian realize that the best they can realistically hope for is not to turn on each other - and they can only manage that for less than a day.

They're constantly pushed to the edge of an emotional breakdown as they struggle to keep any of a hundred flare-ups between their parents from becoming an uncontrollable firestorm of passive-aggression and personal attacks. Whew, talk about exhausting! Even before the visit, Zack and Gillian are counting the minutes until their parents' visit is over ... but then they learn that it never will be: both sets of parents are moving to L.A. From Friends alums Andrew Reich and Ted Cohen comes the hilarious multi-camera comedy, Smothered, a delightfully skewed look at navigating the challenges of having your parents be a part of your child's life - without letting them completely take over."

What did they leave out? It's reportedly still being considered for a midseason order.

The plot in a nutshell: "Remember: our goal for this weekend is just to stay married," Zack (Kyle Howard) declares to his wife Gillian (Brooke D'Orsay). You see, ever since the birth of their daughter Peyton their parents have been whipped up into a frenzy. And of course, they couldn't be more different: his - uptight New Yorkers Fran (Marcia Gay Harden) and Alan (Adam Arkin) - are pretentious and disengaged while hers - bombastic Southerners Skip (John C. McGinley) and Patty (Julie White) - are scrappy and exuberant. The only thing they can agree on: they each deserve more time with Peyton leaving Zack and Gillian stuck in a neverending war of appeasement.

So whether it's making sure their daughter is dressed in the equal amount of clothing from each grandparent or properly rationing the number of days each has come to visit, it's a constant struggle to make sure everyone is happy (Gillian: "Do you remember when Peyton was born? She just had to beat your mom and be the first one to hold that baby." Zack: "I know. She could have at least waited until Peyton was all the way out of you."). But with the arrival of Peyton's first birthday things have escalated even further as Skip and Patty insist she be baptized, much to the horror of Fran and Alan, who want her to participate in a Jewish naming ceremony.

And so Zack and Gillian, who refuse to see the error in their respective parents' ways, endeavor to diffuse said bomb with an assortment of distractions that - you guessed it - ultimately backfire and ruin Peyton's party. And while usually Zack and Gillian can take solace in the fact that their parents are guests, when Fran and Alan announce they've bought a house nearby - and Skip and Patty respond in kind, moving in with Gillian's neglected, oddball sister Susie (Kate Micucci, sans ukulele) - they realize the war is just beginning.

What works: While the thought of McGinley, White, Harden and Arkin hamming it up for 22 minutes may sound like fun...

What doesn't: ...in practice it's so big and broad there's hardly a moment that doesn't ring false. Between Skip's good ol' boy braggadocio (Skip: "Hey Sugar, what's on my schedule for tomorrow?" Patty: "Thighs and tris!" Skip: "Thighs and tris!"), Fran's passive aggressive compliments (to Patty, after seeing the christening dress she made: "Is that a politically correct costume? Mexican baby?"), Alan's all around fastidiousness ("Did you read the article I sent you about fecal matter in bar nuts?") and Patty's hyper-emotional reactions ("How could you do this to me?" she tells Gillain while dabbing a toilet seat cover around her eyes. "And on a Christian holiday like the 4th of July!"), the scenery is thoroughly chewed, digested and evacuated.

Collectively they give a bizarre, almost nonsensical flair to the proceedings, whether it's Skip explaining his TV preferences ("I tell ya what I don't like very much is 'Melissa & Joey'... although it's pretty good!"), Zack and Gillian overhearing her parents having sex (Skip: "Yeah mommy, yeah baby! Big daddy likes it like that! Now don't touch it, don't touch it!") or a debate over what to have for dinner (Fran: "Why don't we have the choucroute I brought back from Alsace?" Skip: "The what?" Fran (holds up jar): "Choucroute." Skip: "Is that a baby?" Alan: "It's actually quite good." Skip: "I'd be willing to try it... I just don't want to eat the face."). And while I appreciate said attempts to rock its the boilerplate boat - it is after all the second ABC pilot this season to feature the exact same plot ("My Freakin' Family" being the other), complete with dueling baptisms/naming ceremonies - and liven things up, it ultimately...

The bottom line: ...just feels fake, hollow and - most damning of all - not funny.

  [july 2011]  


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