TV reviews: ABC debuts two dramas, two comedies tonight
September 24, 2013 4:00 AM
Peter "Hopper" Stone/ABC
Bradley Whitford and Malin Akerman star in the "Trophy Wife."
By Rob Owen Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
In TV 101, programmers learn it's always best to use established hits to launch new series.
But ABC's Tuesday night plan for fall flies in the face of that axiom with an all-new lineup that rolls out tonight. It begins with the debut of the anticipated "Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." at 8 p.m., followed by three other less-anticipated programs.
Sometimes a little goes a long way; and too much goes too far. Such is the case with ABC's "The Goldbergs" (9 tonight. WTAE), a 1985-set sitcom that clearly wants to be a new generation's "The Wonder Years."
When: 9 tonight, ABC.
Starring: Jeff Garlin.
It's not nearly that well made and is more comedic than heartfelt, but it could grow into something if the cast would simply lower the volume. Who watches TV to be yelled at?
Adam (Sean Giambrone) records his family's antics on a chunky video camera while his adult self (voiced by Patton Oswalt) narrates the proceedings.
Dad Murray (Jeff Garlin, "Curb Your Enthusiasm") is most likely to raise his voice while mom Beverly (Wendi McLendon-Covey, "Bridesmaids") is apt to employ a guilt trip/smother her children, who also include 17-year-old Erica (Hayley Orrantia) and emotional basket case Barry (Troy Gentile), who is turning 16 in the pilot episode.
"I agree with whatever nonsense your mother just said," Dad says over a family meal. When Barry complains something isn't fair, Dad yells, "Who told you life was fair, you moron!"
We get it, they're yellers!
Still, the show has its amusing moments, although not from an abundance of 1980s nostalgia clips ("The Karate Kid," "Knight Rider," "ALF," "Diff'rent Strokes" and "Back to the Future" all whiz by on screen) and music cues. The humor comes from the characters and their relationships, especially after grandpa (George Segal) wrecks a car and two of the kids wind up in jail with him.
"The Goldbergs" does provoke laughter, and if its writers can learn that less is more, it might grow into a series worth watching -- without protective cotton in your ears.
And lest viewers think the use of a certain word -- it melds the title of former CBS drama "JAG" and inspect repellent Off -- suggests a Pittsburgh connection, series creator Adam F. Goldberg grew up in suburban Philadelphia. "The Goldbergs" is based on his childhood, and viewers can see video clips of the real Goldberg family that he shot as a child at the end of tonight's pilot.
Although not as funny (or loud) as "The Goldbergs," "Trophy Wife" (9:30 tonight, ABC) offers some promise if viewers can get beyond its "Cougar Town"-like title, which may be a high bar to clear.
Reformed party girl Kate (Malin Akerman) is the third wife of older man Pete (Bradley Whitford, "The West Wing") and stepmom to twin teens Hillary (Bailee Madison) and Warren (Ryan Lee) from Pete's marriage to Diane (Marcia Gay Harden), Pete's driven, brittle first ex-wife.
When: 9:30 tonight, ABC.
Starring: Malin Akerman.
Kate is also stepmom to Bert (Albert Tsai), adopted son of ex-wife No. 2, Jackie (Michaela Watkins).
The ex-wives disapprove of Kate, and Hillary distrusts her, too, while Warren may be fantasizing about Kate. Misunderstandings, inadvertent bad lessons and attempts to deceive ensue.
The kid characters are pretty funny, especially Bert, who blackmails Kate's best friend (Natalie Morales) after she makes him late for orchestra rehearsal.
"You're not even a grown-up," he tells her after locking himself in her car. "Your car is full of garbage and shoes!"
With its title and premise, "Trophy Wife" is not immediately likable, but some jokes land well and the kid characters are fun. It's not deserving of any trophies yet, but perhaps with time, improvement and a forgiving viewing audience it will be. Good luck with that.
ABC's "Lucky 7" opens with a chase scene and then flashes back in time to seven months before the chase.
On Monday night CBS's "Hostages" used a similar device (but 12 hours instead of many months), and on Sunday ABC's "Betrayal" will use it again. It's getting stale.
When: 10 tonight, ABC.
Starring: Matt Long, Lorraine Bruce.
"Lucky 7" (10 tonight, WTAE) also conforms to the string of large-cast dramas that ABC has been rolling out with little success since "Lost." Will "Lucky 7" have better luck? It seems unlikely.
While there are some things to recommend about "Lucky 7" -- the fresh faces in a cast of mostly unknown, diverse actors -- the show is also one of those frustrating series where every character is desperate and too many of them make bad choices.
The series centers on six co-workers at a New York gas station who have been chipping into a lottery pool for years.
Matt (Matt Long, "Jack & Bobby") is expecting a child with his pregnant girlfriend when he gets roped into a criminal scheme by his ex-con brother, Nicky (Stephen Louis Grush), who has a crush on co-worker Samira (Summer Bishil).
Cashier Denise (Lorraine Bruce) struggles to lose weight, single mother Leanne (Anastasia Phillips) tries to keep her past a secret, and store manager Bob (Isiah Whitlock Jr.) is keeping a secret, too.
And then there's poor Antonio (Luis Antonio Ramos), who quit paying into the lottery pool but never told his wife, who assumes he's one of the winners when the group strikes it rich.
"Lucky 7" is based on the British series "The Syndicate," and Ms. Bruce played a similar role in the original British show. She's one of the stand-out players in "Lucky 7" as a sympathetic, slightly sad sack woman with a heart of gold.
The working class setting makes "Lucky 7" pretty unique among a prime-time crop that too often focuses on opulence, but there's a lack of drama in the pilot because of the way the show telegraphs all its characters' decisions before they happen. None of the characters stands out, which would make it easier to latch onto the show and care about what becomes of them.