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Welcome once again to our annual "first look" at the broadcast networks' offerings for the 2008-2009 season. Each day we'll walk you through one of the new series set to premiere next season and go over our initial impressions after viewing the pilot - or in this new post-strike/straight-to-series world, reading the pilot script. We'll start with the ones that were actually filmed and move on to the others in the coming weeks.
With that in mind, it's even more important to remember that a lot can change from what's being screened right now - recasting, reshooting, etc. - but we still want to give you a heads up on what you should (and shouldn't) keep on your radar in the coming months. Plus: as an added bonus, we've got a backlog of passed over pilots - some from this season, some from last season - we'll be tackling as well. So enough of our rambling, on with the show!
(written by Larry Levin; directed by Bryan Gordon; TRT: 19:15)
The network's description: "OUTNUMBERED takes a fresh and hilarious approach to the staid family sitcom. The show offers "Curb Your Enthusiasm"-style improvised dialogue with a "Malcolm in the Middle"-like premise about the triumphs and travails of parenting. The adult actors are scripted, while the children's dialogue is improvised and off-the-cuff. No one ever said parenting was easy. You make the rules up as you go, and some days dealing with your bundles of joy leaves you at your wits' end. For GREG (Ken Marino, "Veronica Mars") and JENNA EMBRY (Brooke Bloom, "CSI: Miami"), whose 6-year-old LILY (Alina Foley, "Days of Our Lives") has the diva act down pat, 7-year-old JACK (Aidan Potter, "Opposite Day") lies with the dexterity of a con-artist and pre-teen KYLE (Ridge Canipe, "Walk The Line") is...well, a pre-teen, it's three against two and they're OUTNUMBERED. Rounding out the madness in Greg and Jenna's lives are TANYA (Beth Dover, "Criminal Minds"), Jenna's slightly off-balance spiritual-healing sister, and EDDIE (Bill English, "Cavemen"), Greg's wheeling-and-dealing, fasttalking salesman brother. These two end up being more of a liability than an asset to the family. Based on the hit British series, OUTNUMBERED is written and executive-produced by Larry Levin ("Dr. Doolittle")."
What did they leave out: The screened version actually ran a few minutes short of the standard 22.
The plot in a nutshell: Greg (Ken Marino) and Jenna (Brooke Bloom) Embry are just barely surviving parenthood. Eldest son Kyle (Ridge Canipe) seems to ignore them more the further along into puberty he gets; middle child Jack (Aidan Potter) gets more lost in his own imagination with each passing day; and precocious Lily (Alina Foley) continues to find new ways to expose her parents' failures. Not helping at all in their struggles are Greg's brother Eddie (Bill English), a timeshare spammer who only stops by to do his laundry, and Jenna's desperate sister Tanya (Beth Dover), who's prone to stalking her exes. The pilot then concerns itself with a loose collection of familial foibles - Greg tries to bond with Kyle over his first day at middle school by giving him his first razor; Jack has taken up using odd items to clog the toilet as it - according to him - prevents killer robots from getting in the house; Lily is mortified that Jenna lost her precious stuffed bunny Hoppy after going hiking; and Greg and Jenna hope to get some alone time after watching neighbors Armando and Susie (apologies as I didn't recognize the actors) flaunt their sexual escapades. The latter plot then sees Eddie being tasked with watching Jack (after haggling with Greg over babysitting money no less) while Lily is left in Tanya's care - much to Lily's chagrin. Not surprisingly Greg and Jenna's alone time gets derailed after Tanya takes it upon herself to embolden Lily's sadness over the missing Hoppy, leading Jenna to go along with Greg's scheme to "replace" Hoppy with a new one from the store. In the end, Greg and Jenna manage to save the day - only to have their victory erased by the fickle nature of children.
What works: There's an easygoing charm to "Outnumbered" that I don't think I've seen on TV in a while. While family comedies are generally of the clueless dad/mom's in charge mold, "Outnumbered" opts for a more realistic approach - Greg and Jenna are equal partners, each with their own strengths and their own flaws. They love their kids but are tested by the exhaustion involved with raising them. The show's humor is surprisingly not manic or mean-spirited, it comes from an honest place - such as when Greg learns that Kyle is quite the charming conversationalist from one of his friend's parents, Jenna can't help but feel guilty over losing Hoppy or Greg being regularly surprised by what's the latest outrageous theory Jack has come up with to rationalize his behavior. The kids and the parents also have a relaxed back and forth in their dialogue (as noted above, the kids' is improvised) that really seems to capture family life.
What doesn't: I'm not quite sure "Outnumbered" would be a show I'd actively seek out. While it's definitely cute and charming, it's not really laugh out funny or really that original for that matter. It's also more smile driven than laugh driven - making it a tough sell in the current comedy marketplace. Regardless, I can't help but hope "Outnumbered" finds an audience...
The bottom line: ...if only because it has a voice that's so different from what's on the air right now.