For the last couple of years, ABC has been playing with the “throw anything at the wall and see if something sticks” theory of sitcoms. This has led to a lot of strange shows and a lot of very niche markets. While ABC has some great comedies, this approach has led to a lot of quick cancels, and some tricky situations. The Neighbors leaps to mind, as does the difficulty the network is having with Happy Endings (a hilarious show, which isn’t getting sold appropriately, and is somewhat niche itself).
Now we have a new show that’s really focused on the awkward and uncomfortable theory of comedy, and it’s one that is pretty hard to predict.
How to Live with Your Parents (For the Rest of Your Life) tries to get a bit of star power as hook, with Sarah Chalke, Brad Garrett, and Elizabeth Perkins, but the comedy is so specific that predicting if audiences will fall for it is like trying to sell The Three Stooges on people, you either like it or you don’t.
The show opens with Polly explaining how she moved back in with her parents six months ago. She left her husband because of his irresponsibility, but this is a move, for her, that puts her out of the frying pan and into the fire. She has young daughter, Natalie in tow, and it isn’t a move she’s happy about.
The gag is that she has a strange relationship with her parents as well (meet them in the video below), because they are not your typical parents. Garrett plays stepfather Max and Perkins plays mother Elaine. Their extreme openness to their sexuality and inability to censor themselves makes for a difficult and trying relationship with their daughter. In something very reminiscent of Raising Hope, we frequently flashback to Polly’s childhood, and the “free love”, irresponsible world she grew up in. Also, similar to Raising Hope, we’re now put in a situation that finds Polly not wanting her own daughter over-exposed to the “parenting” she had to deal with.
The show’s comedy focuses on “normal” Paulie having to deal with her parents and the awkward situations that arise from their personality quirks. Living with your parents while you try to get back on your feet would be difficult enough, but it’s a whole different ballgame when you’re scared to leave your daughter alone in a room with your parents. Throw in an ex-husband who now wants to prove that he’s worthy and take care of his family and, supposedly, hilarity ensues.
It’s a style of comedy that is becoming more popular in films of late, but we haven’t seen it exclusively delivered in a sitcom yet. It’s geared toward awkward pauses, Polly staring blankly at her parents, and a host of OMG deliveries.
It works to a certain extent, but the pilot sells hard, and possibly overshoots. Chalke’s charm, and her character’s own quirkiness, may win out, for a while, but I wonder how many spins you can really put on mom and dad wandering around half-naked, and TMI conversations about orgasms.
I have some hope that this may be one of a host of sitcoms in recent years which have spun right out of their gag. Most of them have managed this (if they last more than ten episodes) pretty well, and I think this one is going to need to. Like I said, there’s a serious Three Stooges comparison in effect here, because you only need to watch them for two minutes and you’re either in or you’re out. That’s a lot of pressure on a television show that may have a lot of audiences yawning at the third naked parent joke, when it has twenty more to sell in as many minutes.
Polly (Sarah Chalke) is a single mom who has recently divorced. The transition hasn’t been easy for her, especially in this economy. So, like a lot of young people living in this new reality, she and her daughter, Natalie (Rachel Eggleston), have moved back home with her eccentric parents, Elaine (two time Golden Globe® and Emmy® nominee Elizabeth Perkins) and Max (three time Emmy® winner Brad Garrett). But Polly and her parents look at life through different generational lenses. Polly (in contrast to how she was raised) aspires to be organized and together, while Max and Elaine live a more free-flowing, improvisational life-style. Polly wants to take it slow with new relationships, while her parents encourage her to be more sexually adventurous. Polly’s co-worker and close friend, Jenn (Stephanie Hunt), also encourages her to jump right back into the dating world.
Polly and her parents’ views on parenting itself also conflict: Polly wants to be an involved modern parent, but Max and Elaine are laid back, hands-off parents from the 1970s. Polly believes children need to be sheltered and have structure and guidance, while Max and Elaine feel that children need the freedom to fall and pick themselves back up. After all, Polly turned out okay, so what’s the big deal?
They say it takes a village to raise a child, but in Polly’s case, this village is on fire, and although her ex-husband Julian’s (Jon Dore) intentions are good, he doesn’t exactly help extinguish the flames. But through figuring out how to live with her dysfunctional family, Polly realizes she might even be able to learn a few helpful things about herself.
“How To Live With Your Parents (For The Rest Of Your Life)” stars Sarah Chalke as Polly, Elizabeth Perkins as Elaine, Jon Dore as Julian, Rachel Eggleston as Natalie, Stephanie Hunt as Jenn and Brad Garrett as Max.