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Fall 2013 Review: Trophy Wife

30 Sep

Trophy Wife and Husband

Trophy Wife is yet another child of ABC’s make-everything-like-Modern-Family approach to comedies (which from their perspective makes a lot of sense). The show, like Modern Family, is about an unorthodox wacky and occasionally out-of-control but ultimately functional family with a lot of moving parts.  Malin Akerman’s character Kate is the titular trophy wife. She starts the show with narration, which is almost always a poor choice in comedies, but an absolute staple of the Modern Family school of shows (Modern Family has it at the end, Suburgatory and The Middle have it throughout). She tells the story in very brief about how she went from single girl out on the town to wife and step-mom. It all started with a chance encounter at a karaoke bar with an older man, a suit-wearing lawyer, Pete, played by Bradley Whitford. Kate accidentally fell and broke Pete’s nose, which led to whirlwind romance followed by marriage.  There’s a catch though, to this dream pairing. Pete’s got major baggage in the form of two very different ex-wives, along with three children.

The first wife is the absolutely terrifying, stern and humorless doctor Diane played by Oscar-winner Marcia Gay Harden.  The second is the trippy, new age-y Jackie, played by Michaela Watkins, who has appeared in New Girl, as well as on Saturday Night Live.  Two of the kids are Diane’s –  a teen girl just entering the stage where she really cares about being cool and Warren, a dorky son who clearly doesn’t care at all about being cool. The third child is Jackie’s and is a precocious maybe 9 year old (I’m awful at estimating kids’ ages, so cut me some slack) adopted from China.  Kate’s best friend Meg is also part of the main cast, and helps Kate out with the kids.

Everyone is well-meaning, generally, as people are on Modern Family-esque shows and that’s not a bad thing., The main source of familial conflict laid out in the first episode seems to be that the ex-wives resent the younger Kate who they think is a party girl hardly responsible enough to be with their children.  The oldest child, Hillary, a rebellious teenager, also doesn’t respect Kate’s attempt to play mom.  The pilot features a series of wacky hijinks like Pete and Jackie running around trying to find an identical hamster to replace Bert’s so they can avoid telling him his hamster died.  It also features a quick twenty minute character arc in which Kate desperately craves the respect of Pete’s-kids and ex-wives, almost disastrously loses what little respect they had for her, and then manages to gain a small piece of that respect in in the end.  The episode ends, as again Modern Familly-esque shows often do, with the whole wacky family in the same room, solving all their episode-long problems together.

The words that spring to mind to best describe Trophy Wife are cute, harmless, and inoffensive.   These are classic backhanded compliment words and they are here as well, and very much in both the backhanded and the compliment sense.  It’s a well-produced program with talented actors, a warm tone, and a couple of laughs, but there’s not enough for me to make it weekly appointment viewing.  In my estimation from just one episode, it’s a little bit south of what I call the Suburgatory line, which represents the perfect show to throw on the TV in the background when I’m lying down late at night, because I don’t care if I fall asleep before the episode ends, and I don’t ever plan on watching all the episodes in order.

Not to beat a dead analogy, but Trophy Wife fits in well with this entire block of ABC comedies, all of which sit somewhere around this middle line of being not bad but not great and yet go no further (note: not The Middle line, another of these ABC comedies).  Like most of the shows on ABC, Trophy Wife is watchable, well-intentioned, and heart-warming, but in the competitive television landscape with so many quality shows competing for my viewing time, that’s just not enough.

Will I watch it again?  Probably not.  It was fine.  The first episode had a couple of laughs and I like the actors and actresses so I wouldn’t object if it was on in a room I was in.   There’s an outside chance it’ll get much better, as comedies do often take a while to find their feet, and I’m perfectly willing to give it another try if I hear and read good things. Until then, it’s just not quite funny or promising enough to secure a guaranteed second viewing.