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Welcome once again to our annual "first look" at the broadcast networks' offerings for the 2010-2011 season. Each day we'll walk you through one of the new series set to premiere next season (or one that didn't make the cut) and go over our initial impressions after viewing the pilot. Keep in mind 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. So enough of our rambling, on with the show!
Plus, as a bonus, check out today's "first look" at a pilot that didn't make the cut - ABC's "It Takes a Village."
[IMPORTANT NOTE: The following is based on the original sales presentation which was screened to us privately or supplied by a third party NOT an informational, not-for-review screener provided by the network in question.]
BETTER WITH YOU (F.K.A. BETTER TOGETHER) (ABC)
(written by Shana Goldberg-Meehan; directed by James Burrows; TRT: 22:49)
The network's description: "Maddie and Ben have been dating for nine years. They know each other inside and out, a relationship marked by contentment and affection, seeing their commitment to one another as a "valid life choice," something they proclaim often - and often loudly. Maddie's younger sister, Mia, has been dating Casey for seven weeks. With a shared c'est la vie attitude, Mia and Casey are smitten with each other, and thrilled to explore the oh-so-many things they don't know about each other yet. But when they announce they're getting married and having a baby, it's news that throws Maddie for a loop. Surprisingly, the girls' parents, Vicky and Joel, couldn't be more pleased. Married 35 years, they have recently adopted a carpe diem sort of philosophy, rather like Mia's, maybe because they're getting older and lost a good portion of their savings when the economy tanked. With three very different relationships tightly intertwined in one family, will it be free thinkers vs. over-thinkers, or will each couple begin to see things a little bit differently?"
What did they leave out? A brief title sequence - photo booth pictures of each couple - refers to its original title, "Couples."
The plot in a nutshell: The Putney sisters are about as opposite as they come. Straight-laced Maddie (Jennifer Finnigan) is a lawyer, comfortably in love with Ben, her equally-as-straight-laced boyfriend of nine years ("It's a valid life choice," she says through gritted-teeth about not being married). Free-spirit Mia (Joanna Garcia) has one of those only on TV jobs (co-owner of an upscale internet invite service) and is head-over-heels for her equally-free-spirited boyfriend Casey (Jake Lacy) of just seven and a half weeks. It's much to their surprise then that they all hit it off after getting together for the first time.
Now comes the bigger hurdle: the girls' parents, Joel (Kurt Fuller) and Vicky (Debra Jo Rupp). Married for 35 years, they've given up hope that either of their children will ever get married, let alone give them grandchildren. Maddie and Ben, who both pride themselves on being Joel and Vicky's favorites, are bracing for the worst - especially after Casey shows up at Maddie's office asking for advise on how to ask Mia to marry him, again after seven weeks and change. Despite their expectations, Mia says yes and - in a horrifying shakeup to their world - Joel and Vicky couldn't be happier for them, even after it comes out that Mia's pregnant. Now with their standing in their parents' eyes flipped, Mia and Maddie will have to adjust to the new status quo.
What works: It's just an all around charming show. Sure it's not breaking the sitcom mold - more on this in a second - but it does have some legit laughs and solid performances all around. Newcomer Jake Lacy in particular proves to be a standout as you can see both how his oddball charm has won over Mia and why Maddie thinks their parents will be aghast by his aforementioned quirkiness, like how he's in an avant-garde metal band. It's also fun to see how terrified Ben and Maddie are that Casey and Mia can just be themselves and not worry and have everything work out for them, while they themselves engage in a high-wire act of schmoozing and lies that apparently has never worked. All in all, "Together" has all you can really ask from a traditional four-camera show: actors with great timing, writing that embraces both the silly and the solid and legs to tell stories beyond the events in the pilot.
What doesn't: As mentioned above, there's nothing here you probably haven't seen before. So much of the show's humor is derived from the three couples doing the same thing back-to-back, to widely different results (while riding in cabs: Mia and Casey make out! Joel and Vicky barely look at each other!) or the old sitcom staple of X proclaiming Y would never do Z, followed by Y proclaiming to X they just did Z (i.e. Maddie says Mia would never get engaged after seven weeks, cut to Mia bursting in the door saying she just got engaged). Again, it's not reinventing the wheel, nor does it have to.
The bottom line: It's got laughs and that's ultimately all one really needs to watch.