[09/16/08 - 12:09 AM]
The Futon's First Look: "Single with Parents" (ABC)
By Brian Ford Sullivan (TFC)

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(written by Kristin Newman; directed by Michael Engler; TRT: 23:33)

The network's description: "(from ABC's press release, August 2008) Meet Louisa. We'll call her Lou. This wistful mid-30's gal is thrilled that her divorced parents are leading exciting lives apart � really she is. Except both of them rely on Lou way too much: Dad needs her as a surrogate parent, and Mom counts on her 24/7 as a shrink and confidante. Hoping to finally live a full life all her own, Lou asks the universe for three teeny-tiny favors: A perfect wife for her dad. A perfect best friend for her mom. And the perfect guy for her. As the saying goes, be careful what you wish for... Before she knows it, she finds herself at Dad's house meeting Nancy, a sweet and generous aquarium tour guide who's soon to become Lou's new stepmom. Although Dad's crazy about Nancy, his two younger kids (Lou's half-siblings) can't stand her. Strike one. Meanwhile, Lou does meet Mr. Right, a hunky and sensitive Matthew McConaughey type who likes her, too, but he turns out to be Nancy's son, and Lou's own brother-to-be! Strike two. Finally, Lou's well-meaning mom announces she's finally found the companion she's been looking for all her life � Lou herself! Strike three? Perhaps, but it never hurts to have a mom on the scene... Writer-producer Kristin Newman (That 70's Show, How I Met Your Mother) digs deep into her own history � and heart � to bring forth this wise, warm, witty half-hour. Alyssa Milano (Charmed, Who's the Boss) stars as the sweet, slightly-off, center of this family that's way too closely knit. From DreamWorks Television (Undeclared, Freaks and Geeks) comes a fast-paced comedy that has you rooting for Lou to find her way."

What did they leave out? That about covers it.

The plot in a nutshell: "Oh no, I know that face," a horrified Lou (Alyssa Milano) notes about the look on her date. The look in question is what happens when people find out the special kind of crazy Lou's family is. You see (as Lou explains via voiceover and her computer's photo gallery), after Lou's parents - self-absorbed Elizabeth (Annie Potts) and irresponsible Joe (Beau Bridges) - split when she was a teen , she started to become their parent. Whether it be serving as the surrogate mother to Joe's kids Dylan and Debbie-Jo (Aramis Knight, Stella Hudgens) from his second marriage or fielding drunk dials from Elizabeth in the middle of the night so she can brag about having sex in a helicopter, Lou - now well into her thirties - is anything and everything to the ones who should be able to do it themselves. This particular night however Elizabeth manages to give some useful advice to Lou about her current predicament - "You have to tell the universe what you want from your life and then you will get it." And in a sleepy haze she does just that - she asks the universe for some space from her family so she can have a life (and a hot guy who looks like Matthew McConaughey "without the inappropriate shirtlessness" wouldn't hurt either). The following day it looks like the universe has her back - Joe's getting hitched to Nancy (Meagen Fay), an aquarium tour guide; and a hot-guy-complete-with-abs named Charlie (Eric Winter) just happens to be helping fix up Joe's house. Unfortunately for her, Dylan and Debbie-Jo can't stand the idea of living apart from her and Charile, well... it turns out he's Nancy's son. Helping Lou through her foibles is Sasha (an amusing Amanda Detmer), her best friend who's still navigating the fruits and labors of being a trophy wife. (Not helping matters - Elizabeth thinks of Sasha as her "soul daughter" and just might love her a little bit more than Lou.) Together they realize there's only one person who can break up the nuptials and restore things to normal, or at least what they used to be, someone "who knows how to kill love" - Elizabeth. From here things continue to spiral in unexpected ways as Elizabeth finds herself jealous of Nancy's motherly skills, Lou learns Nancy is more than eager to help with the kids; and it turns out Joe really does love all of his families. Now Lou must disarm her plans for sabotage and try and prevent Nancy from giving "that face." When all is said and done, Lou may always be "single with parents" but at least now she's got a few extra hands on the front lines.

What works: "Single With Parents" is about as perfect of a companion piece to "Samantha Who?" as you could ask for. Charming lead who's trying to figure out her life. Check. Parents that drive her crazy. Check. Boozy best friend. Check. Hot guy that's off limits (for now). Check. Quirky but not too quirky sense of humor. Check. I point these things out not to ding "Parents" for being a "Samantha Who?" clone but to point out if you're a fan of "Who?" there's a decent chance you'll enjoy "Parents" as well. And as a tried-and-true "Who?" fan myself, I found quite a few elements in "Parents" to enjoy. Milano is about as endearing as I've ever seen her - exasperated but never grumpy; lonely but just a smile away from being happy; and cute but without trying too hard (she closes her talk with the universe with "Seacrest out") - it's without question that she can carry a show. Detmer however steals every scene she's in, whether it's debating the merits of her husband (a rich doctor, but a short rich doctor), commenting on Lou's unique problems ("This is the sexiest thing that has happened in your family since your mom went through her waist up lesbian phase.") or offering her advice when things get out of control ("Maybe we'd all feel better if Charlie took off his shirt.").

What doesn't: Conversely, the show never quite comes together as nearly everyone borders on caricature. Elizabeth and Joe in particular don't feel like people, they're just whatever the next easy joke is about the former being a Mrs. Robinson or the latter being a horrible dad. To its credit though, the show tries to infuse each of them with some depth towards the end and one assumes as the show goes on we'll get a more well-rounded sense of who these people are. That coupled with a little too much silliness for silliness's sake (Winter's abs for instance get their own sound effect) makes me hesitant to declare this TiVo worthy quite yet.

The bottom line: It could turn into something great but it's not there quite yet.

  [september 2008]  


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