With network comedies these days being divided between the documentary style look at a semi-normal situations (‘Modern Family’ being the most obvious example) and the niche type comedy for smaller audience’s (Fox’s brand being the most obvious), one wonders if there’s any room for something truly novel left in the family type comedy. And then this season comes CBS’ ‘Life in Pieces’, the first really different attempt at a new kind of family based sitcom I’ve seen anywhere in quite some time. The comedy is developed around four separate short vignettes based around the (appropriately named) Short’s, and it boasts a cast that would probably get even someone as world weary of these kinds of shows as this reviewer.
John and Joan (James Brolin and Diane Wiest ) are the heads of the family. John is something of a narcissist (he celebrated his 70th birthday by having his own funeral) and Joan is a therapist as frustrated with many aspects of her family. Oldest child Heather (Betsy Brandt) is married to Tim (Dan Bakkedahl) with three children, all of who are growing up a little too fast for her. Middle son Matt (Thomas Sadoski, never more human) is suffering from a major career setback, and has had to move back in with his parents at age 38. Trying to date when you live with your parents and your car is a wreck is a lot harder than you think; its even harder when your current girlfriend still lives with her ex-fiancee. Youngest son Greg (Colin Hanks) and his wife Jen have just had their first child, and are trying to deal with the problems of being parents.
The setup is very simple; four separate stories centered around each member of the family, with some interactions in each other plots. But freed from the necessity of having to carry on a potentially weak segment for an entire thirty minutes, Adler and his fellow writers seem content to let each story play out with a good compression of jokes within them. All of the actors have a way of rising to the material, and I haven’t seen a really bad segment yet.
Its not clear if this kind of premise can hold up over an entire season, or whether or not the format will get tired. But right now, the idea of doing a group of comic short stories is so simple and so well done, one wonders why it has never been tried before. Given ‘Life in Pieces’ placement between hit series ‘Big Bang Theory’ and ‘Mom’ (after the show moves to Thursday) it seems positions to become a hit. Now let’s see if it can keep it up.
My score: 4 stars.