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Trophy Wife: What This New Family Comedy Gets Right

by Aly Semigran October 30, 2013 10:41 am
<i>Trophy Wife</i>: What This New Family Comedy Gets Right

With some dismal comedies already cancelled (We Are Men, Welcome to the Family) and others whose success we simply cannot comprehend (The Millers, Dads), it was starting to feel like there was no hope in sight for a worthwhile new comedy for the fall 2013 season. While Brooklyn Nine-Nine has begun to fill the 30 Rock-sized hole in our hearts that longs for off-beat humor, there was nothing that seemed to resemble a worthwhile family comedy. That was until Trophy Wife -- in spite of its misleading, Cougar Town-esque name -- not only gave us one of most likable new TV broods, but one of the most sincere and funny shows of the fall. Here's why we think it's the one new show to stand out in the over-saturated family comedy television landscape.

They Do Halloween Episodes Right
In addition to Brooklyn Nine-Nine and The Goldbergs (who absolutely killed it with their gut-busting Halloween episodes) Trophy Wife was the only other sitcom that made their Halloween episode a real treat. From Kate (Malin Akerman) dressed as a centaur to Pete's (Bradley Whitford) terrible punny costume "hung jury" to Warren's (Ryan Lee) hilarious drugged-up Ellen DeGeneres dance, every storyline worked.

Their Characters Are Fully Realized People
See, this is where Trophy Wife's title is the most frustrating thing about the show, because Kate (Akerman, at her best) is far from what we perceive as a "trophy wife." Yes, she's beautiful and unemployed and significantly younger than her wealthy husband Pete (the always-great Whitford), but the reformed party girl is a devoted wife and an even more devoted stepmother. In fact, all of these characters, even when they fit a mold, are multi-layered. For instance, Pete's scary type-A ex-wife Diane (Marcia Gay Harden, mercifully getting a break from The Newsroom) or his hippie-dippie ex Jackie (the underrated Michaela Watkins). While they tick off certain comedy check marks, they feel like fully realized human beings whose personalities are engrained in them. You can't say the same for, say, Aunt Leigh (Katie Finneran) on The Michael J. Fox Show who is sad, sexually promiscuous and age-obsessed…because that's an easy thing for the writers to fall back on rather than creating a fully realized person.

It Can Be Sexy, But Doesn't Feel the Need to Hit You Over the Head With It
If Trophy Wife were on, say, CBS, you can almost put money on it that it would be jam-packed with innuendos about the sexual age gap between Kate and Pete and/or that the wild child lifestyle of her best pal Meg (Natalie Morales) would be constant fodder for alcoholism or promiscuity jokes like on that network's Mom. In the Trophy Wife episode "The Tryst," Pete and Kate get it on in the basement of their kids' school, and eventually got locked in. Now, if this were Dads, there would not only be incessant laugh-track wooing but, undoubtedly, a string of sexist, racist jokes thrown in the mix because so much TV confuses "edgy" with being lazy and plain stupid. There's sex and sex talk on Trophy Wife to be sure, and while it's a little over a PG rating, it doesn’t try to be sleazy for the sake of it. Because it doesn't have to.

The '80s Can Be a One-Time Gimmick, You Know
In case you hadn't noticed (or visited Buzzfeed ever), nostalgia is huge right now. ABC has capitalized on that frenzy with the ultimately charming sitcom The Goldbergs, a show that takes place sometime in the 1980s. (We say sometime, because there's no cohesive timeline, with characters jumping from 1982 to 1986 in the same episode). While the gimmick certainly has its charms and doesn't limit the show in the same way it did That 70's Show, it's still just that: a gimmick. Trophy Wife, on the other hand, found a way to incorporate the nostalgia trope (an '80s theme party!) without relying on old school visual gags for the entirety of the show. It's, like, totally tubular.

Bert!
Seriously, there is no cuter or funnier kid on primetime television right now than Bert (played by Albert Tsai). Instead of veering dangerously into Manny from Modern Family territory by being the ethnically diverse and wise-beyond-his-years kid of the bunch, Bert is actually hilarious. (The episode in which Bert begins speaking Hebrew is easily one of the funniest bits of the fall television season). He desperately cares for the well-being of his mother Jackie and their relationship is as hilarious as it is touching and authentic. Plus, Bert's cuteness helps balance out the grating Hillary (Bailee Madison), who is more or less the Dana Brody of the Trophy Wife world.

Most Importantly, It's Not Terrible!
Watch a show like Sean Saves the World or Dads or The Millers and you'll appreciate how smart, sweet, and -- most importantly for a comedy -- funny a show like Trophy Wife is.

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