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Welcome once again to our annual "first look" at the broadcast networks' offerings for the 2011-2012 season, now in its sixth year! 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!
[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.]
FAMILY ALBUM (FOX)
(written by Joe Port & Joe Wiseman; directed by Shawn Levy; TRT: 22:49)
The network's description: "In March, while GLEE takes a break before its spring semester return, FOX will continue the laughs on Tuesdays with a block of four half-hour comedies. The night will feature the critically acclaimed RAISING HOPE, new comedies I HATE MY TEENAGE DAUGHTER (wt) and NEW GIRL (wt), as well as one of the additional comedies in development, including FAMILY ALBUM (working title) and LITTLE IN COMMON (working title). Starring Mike O'Malley (GLEE) and Rachael Harris ("The Hangover"), FAMILY ALBUM (wt) is the single-camera comedy that takes a snapshot of the Bronsky clan as they reveal the hilarious stories behind the photo-worthy moments of life. The new family comedy LITTLE IN COMMON (wt), starring Rob Corddry ("Hot Tub Time Machine") and Kevin Hart ("Death at a Funeral"), follows three diverse middle-class families who become intertwined when their children play on youth sports teams together."
What did they leave out? Despite being mentioned in the network's upfront release, it hasn't officially been ordered to series. A second episode is being shot before a formal decision is made.
The plot in a nutshell: "These days our lives are documented more than ever before: big moments, funny moments, family moments," explains Dave Bronsky (Mike O'Malley) in the lead narration. "And behind each picture there's a story. These are the stories from our family album." And with that, Dave and his wife Marni (Rachael Harris) recount the story behind one such photo - an embarrassing shot of them caught skinny dipping while visiting her folks' time share in Maryland - to his concerned mother (Georgia Engel) over video chat. It began like any other family vacation: Dave up at 5:00 AM ready to squeeze as much fun as possible out of their trip, much to the chagrin of his family, which includes awkward son Max (Ted Sutherland), perennial fairy princess Ruby (Isabella Cramp) and their blossoming adopted daughter Jenna (Damaris Diaz).
Things however get off to a messy start as Marni's efforts to cash in on a lavish wedding being held at the resort backfire while the time share itself already has a resident: Marni's entomologist brother Steven (Rob Huebel), who knows more about butterflies in the Amazon rainforest than behaving like an actual person. All of the above hits Dave the hardest as he had hoped to use said trip to bond with Max, who's going through a weird stage ("Stages can last like 13 years right?" he quips). Meanwhile, Marni quickly becomes obsessed with snagged the only public cabana from an uptight actuary named Holly (Joy Osmanski). As for the kids, Max pines over Bree Daniels (Sadie Calvano), a girl from back home who's also vacationing at their resort, while Jenna finds her newfound womanly physique gets the attention of the meatheads who previously ignored her. Ultimately, the Bronskys rally and everyone makes some memories, albeit not the ones they were hoping to going in.
What works: For all its manic energy, the show is unexpectedly sweet and thoughtful as Marni and Dave look back on the events in almost a "Wonder Years"-esque fashion, complete with closing narration set to a montage of the experience. It's legitimately funny as well, as Marni and Dave bemoan their parenting skills (Marni: "Jenna is such a good kid. Do you think it's because she's adopted? Is it our genes that are ruining the other two?" Dave: "Oh without question.") and the etiquette over what level of personal property is required to save a seat by the pool (a book? goggles? a magazine? a towel?) is thoroughly examined. It's also wonderfully silly in parts as Marni and Dave inadvertently continue to ruin portions of the aforementioned wedding while Steven relentlessly stabs Dave with an EpiPen after he has a reaction to crab meat.
What doesn't: It's not necessarily always a seamless transition between the above elements. Most notably, the opening tag feels unnecessarily schmaltzy and unearned - especially when it's going to mine that territory again at the very end - while the present day pops sometimes take away the energy of scenes rather than add to them. Either way it definitely feels like a show - from the comedic rocks that are O'Malley and Harris to a script that's not shy about making them look silly or sweet - and...
The bottom line: ...definitely more so than the new comedies currently on FOX's schedule.