Fall 2015 Review: Life in Pieces

23 Sep

Life in Pieces

Modern Family may be slowly losing its luster, losing the Emmy for Outstanding Comedy Series for the first time since its debut six years ago, but it’s still one of the best and most important network success stories of the last decade, particularly in comedy where networks have had much more trouble than in dramas. Understandably, other network shows have tried to pick up on Modern Family’s magic, trying to cop whatever makes Modern Family so successful – the format, the family, the tone, the themes, or anything else they take a stab at. Few, however, work to replicate the formula as wholeheartedly as Life in Pieces.

Life in Pieces involves a wacky, modern family, spanning three generations, in single-camera laugh track-less style, much like Modern Family. Life in Pieces is premised on a story-telling gimmick not in place in Modern Family, but the gimmick doesn’t really prevent it from being much different. Rather than cross-cutting multiple plotlines like most shows do (except for, on an entirely unrelated note, HBO’s Oz), Life in Pieces tells its stories one after the other, story A in full, then B, and so forth. Ultimately though the result is pretty much the same as it would be otherwise, merely with parts of the show moved around slightly.

Here are the characters. In the pilot, the first story is about single Matt (Thomas Sadoski, or Don from The Newsroom) , who is on a date with his co-worker Colleen. The two are attempting to have sex, but reach awkwardness both at her place, where her ex-fiancé (Jordan Peele) still lives, and his, where his parents (James Brolin and Dianne Wiest) whose house it presumably is, are home early from a bar mitzvah. Next, married couple Greg and Jen (Colin Hanks and Zoe Lister-Jones or Fawn Moscato from New Girl) welcome their first child into the world.  Jen freaks out over the damage to her vagina and Greg tries to help. Third, Tim and Heather (Veep senator Dan Bakkedahl and Breaking Bad’s Marie Betsy Brandt) arrive at a college visit with their oldest son Tyler, and their younger kids Samantha and Sophia, where all the kids grow up. Samantha gets her first period and Sophia learns there’s no Santa or Easter Bunny. The final story involves parents John and Joan, at John’s funeral-themed 70th birthday, where their children Matt, Greg, and Heather sit with their families watching as the party implodes and the family yells at each other before having a warm, coming together moment.

Life in Pieces provides the same update and twist to traditional family comedy that Modern Family offers. The families are bigger; there are more characters and more plots than old school family sitcoms, because shows move faster these days, and the lack of long laugh track pauses provides significantly more show time. The tone attempts to be very modern – frank talk about sex and the damage that pregnancy does to vaginas plays  prominent role for example. At the end, there’s some narration, and though the family doesn’t out and out learn something, there’s an attempt to tie up all the plots into some trite and meaningless heartwarming pro-family everyone loves each other message.

There’s of course a problem here. The show isn’t funny. It’s not cringeworthy, and like Modern Family, it’s a lot better than a lot of what came before, and quite a bit of what hs come since. It’s largely inoffensive and just as importantly, non-offensive, unlike so many other successful but terrible comedies. It could even be called cute on occasion. Unfortunately, it’s just not very funny and there’s not really a lot else besides heartwarming bromides to justify any continued viewing.

Will I watch it again? No. It’s a cute attempt in some aspects. It’s not awful and like Modern Family, there are some admirable aspects. But it’s not funny and it’s not one of those shows that offers enough that make you watch it even though it’s not funny. Sorry.

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