A new sitcom can succeed if it features actors and/ or characters you like and if it’s funny. But what about a sitcom that features some actors and/ or characters you like and is only occasionally funny?
Then you have problems, and that describes CBS’ The Millers and NBC’s Sean Saves the World, which premiere at 8:30 and 9 p.m. respectively Thursday along with a better new show, Welcome to the Family, at 8:30 p.m. Thursday on NBC.
Margo Martindale is the best reason to watch The Millers. The brilliant character actor goes for broad comedy playing a nagging wife to dopey Beau Bridges (Masters of Sex) and meddling mom to her newly divorced son, played by Will Arnett.
As for the rest of the family, not so much. Arnett plays Nathan Miller, who’s been afraid to tell his parents that he’s been divorced for three months. When he finally spills the beans, his dad, Tom, decides that if Nathan can get divorced, so can he. While Carol Miller moves into Nathan’s apartment, Tom goes to live with Debbie (Jayma Mays, Glee), Nathan’s sister.
The show has its moments, but almost all of them belong to Martindale. Bridges plays the dear-old-dumb-dad bit to the hilt, with one predictable bit of physical comedy after another.
Sean Hayes returns to series TV as essentially the same character he played in Will & Grace, except for two factors: He’s out now, and his character, conveniently named Sean, is the single father of a teenager named Ellie (Sami Isler, Home Run).
The good thing about Sean Saves the World is that it’s an ensemble show. The bad thing about that for the show is that we’re often happier to see the supporting characters onscreen than we are Sean, who is funny from time to time but whose constant frenzy gets tiresome.
But consider the supporting players: Linda Lavin (Alice) plays Lorna, Sean’s domineering mother. Only a few minutes into the show, and you’re likely to say to yourself, “Can’t you change the title and focus of the show to ‘Lorna Saves the World?’”
Then there’s Thomas Lennon (Reno 911), whose singular brand of comic insanity makes him the boss from hell at Sean’s Internet marketing firm but a gift from heaven for Sean Saves the World. And Megan Hilty (Smash) proves an able comedienne as Sean’s best friend, Liz.
Welcome to the Family may have the most potential of the new Thursday comedies, because it depends largely on careful character development as the grounding for its humor.
This is Romeo and Juliet, sitcom-style. Two brand-new high school graduates, Molly Yoder (Ella Rae Peck, The Call) and Junior Hernandez (Joey Haro, Awkward) have their futures in front of them, and those futures will now include a child, much to the shocked disappointment of their respective parents.
Junior hasn’t told his parents about the baby, but Molly has told her physician father, Dan (Mike O’Malley, Glee) and her mom Caroline (Mary McCormack, In Plain Sight). They are still trying to process the information when the Hernandez family turns up for dinner. It’s one thing to find out that Junior is going to be a dad, but quite another thing when Miguel Hernandez (Ricardo Chavira, Desperate Housewives) recognizes Dan as the lout who’d shown up at his family-owned gym and promptly picked a fight.
The show has been incorrectly perceived as setting the Yoders against a Latino family. But Dan denies that Junior’s ethnicity is the reason he doesn’t want his daughter marrying him: It’s not Latinos he dislikes, he says convincingly — it’s Miguel.
We’re going to have these discussions with greater frequency — at least I hope so — because that will mean Latinos are being featured more often in leading roles on TV — something that’s way overdue on television.