[08/08/07 - 11:28 PM]
The Futon's First Look: "Family of the Year" (ABC)
By Brian Ford Sullivan (TFC)

Please note: As a courtesy, please do not reproduce these comments to newsgroups, forums or other online places. Links only please.

Welcome once again to our annual "first look" at the broadcast networks' offerings for the 2007-2008 season. Each day we'll walk you through one of the new series set to premiere this season and go over our initial impressions after viewing the pilot. While it's still a little early for full reviews (some recasting and reshooting will be done on a good chunk of them), we still want to give you a heads up on what you should - and shouldn't - keep on your radar in the coming months.

And as an added bonus this year, each day we'll also take a look at one of the pilots that didn't make the cut. So enough of our rambling, on with the show!

(pilot not ordered to series)

The network's description: "In every small town, there is one family that is the family in town. Stores and public buildings bear their name. Small town society revolves around them. They are the ultimate big fish in a small pond. This is a story about that family. The Holloways dominate Tatum, New Mexico, a dusty desert town of 5000. They are incredibly well respected for the standards of excellence they bring to this dying oil town, but it's not an easy task to keep up appearances. Little do the townspeople know that behind the glamorous facade of the most remarkable family ever to grace the town of Tatum, the Holloways are barely keeping it together. Dick and Jackie have been sleeping in separate bedrooms for years while their son, Boots, has been forced to leave Duke University under suspicious circumstances. Their daughter, Tatum, is the only one with a shred of awareness of the family's true problems, and she earnestly tries to help heal her damaged family. For the past 15 years, the Holloways received the "Family of the Year" award from the Tatum Tribune. But now the Holloways are hanging by a thread in an effort to survive. From writer/executive producer Erica Rivinoja ("Grounded for Life," "South Park") and executive producer Pam Brady ("The Loop," Team America, "South Park") comes this story of a family's struggle to live up to their reputation. Family of the Year explores the perverse importance Americans place on the issues of status and appearances in communities both big and small."

What did they leave out: It's basically a more restrained, less funny version of "Arrested Development."

The plot in a nutshell: The Holloways are the kings, queens, princes and princesses of Yucca Flats, New Mexico, having been named "Family of the Year" 15 years running. "They're just like the Kennedys," an onlooker notes. "Except not liberal... thank God." The trouble is they're far from the perfect clan the public thinks - father Dick (Alan Ruck) and mother Jackie (Jennifer Coolidge) are barely speaking as the former spends his nights in a sleeping bag in his office; daughter Tatum (Shana Dowdeswell) can't stand her "stage mom" mother as she refuses to compete in this year's Miss Blooming Yucca pageant, derailing their chances of repeating as "Family of the Year"; son Boots (Tommy Dewey) is a functioning alcoholic; and grandfather Monty (Robert Vaughn) still hasn't let go of the fact his son (Ruck) missed the winning field goal during the high school football championship. Jackie thankfully gets a second chance at the title after a local Ned Flanders-esque Mormon couple (Dina Waters, Jerry Lambert) brings by an immigrant girl (Raini Rodriguez, very much in the mold of "Little Miss Sunshine") in desperate need of coaching. This not surprisingly causes Tatum to rethink her decision to quit the pageant and she agrees to make a return appearance. The trouble is Jackie has already gotten Boots to get Monty to rig the judging, causing the whole situation to blow up in their faces. In the end, things work out for the best as - for now - the Holloways manage to stay on top.

What works: The cast - Coolidge in particular ("Until we get the fence built we'll need to do all we can to help those little immigrants," she politely mentions to Waters's character) - have all the potential makings of a fun group...

What doesn't: ...but the show can't seem to evolve from its one joke premise. The majority of the gags revolve around the same three scenarios - Jennifer Coolidge being Jennifer Coolidge; Robert Vaughn's character emasculating Alan Ruck's character; and Tommy Dewey's character finding an excuse to drink - all of which unfortunately wear thin very quickly. That's not to say there aren't a few solid laughs (a show that squeezes a joke out of a "The Lovely Bones" reference can't be all bad), it's just that for the most part everything feels very flat and lifeless. It's sort of like "Arrested Development" if you take away Ron Howard's narration, tone down the show's documentary-style direction and ask the actors to dial back their characters a few notches. In other words, it's kind of a limp noodle way to spend a half hour.

The bottom line: Unless you like your "Arrested Development" watered down, this isn't the show for you.

  [august 2007]  


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