New comedy ‘Trophy Wife’ gets strong start
Stellar cast leads solid comedy
Published: Wednesday, September 18, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, September 18, 2013 01:09
Each fall, as networks roll out their new shows and returning hits, a batch of comedies premieres — often to embarrassingly low ratings and critical lambasting. For every “Modern Family” (2009-present) and “Big Bang Theory” (2007-present), there’s an equally reviled sitcom that is pulled from the airwaves and quickly forgotten. Who remembers “Cavemen” (2007-2008), the truly terrible show based on GEICO’s cavemen commercials? What about last year’s offensive and controversial mid-season replacement “Work It” (2012)? As the fall television season gets off to its official start this week, similarly appalling comedies are likely to make appearances — luckily for audiences, “Trophy Wife” (2013) isn’t one of them.
The comedy, written by Emily Halpern and Sarah Haskins, uses the same broad, appealing humor as “Modern Family” and applies it to a similarly dysfunctional family. Malin Akerman plays Kate Harrison, a formerly hard-partying twenty-something who marries much older Pete (Bradley Whitford).
It’s not exactly wedded bliss — Pete has two ex-wives who are equally crazy. Marcia Gay Harden stars as Dr. Diane Buckley, a no-nonsense poker-faced physician, whose unmistakable disdain for Kate is apparent in Harden’s first moments on screen, and Michaela Watkins portrays the kooky, free-spirited Jackie.
Pete’s three children make appearances as well, and though their characters were little more than stereotypes with names thus far, there is certainly potential for development. A recent casting change — Bailee Madison will replace Gianna LePera as teenage daughter Hillary — suggests positive movement. As a young Snow White in “Once Upon a Time” (2011-present), Madison turned in a surprisingly impressive performance. With any luck, she will be able to flesh out a character rendered flat and bland in the pilot.
“Trophy Wife” benefits immensely from its talented cast. While it lacks the quirky, heartwarming humor of “Parks and Recreation” (2009-present) or the sharp situational comedy of “The Mindy Project” (2012-present), the stellar cast does solid work in the pilot episode. Whitford’s boyish charm, which he perfected as Josh Lyman on “The West Wing” (1999-2006), makes a hearty return to the small screen. Although Pete’s series premiere plotline was subpar, Whitford shone as the lovable and often sheepish family moderator. Pete placates tensions among his ex-wives, Kate and his children while remaining alternately confused, amused and guilty.
It was in these scenes that the pilot was at its most successful point. Gathering unwilling and disgruntled family members in the same location allowed the various characters to butt heads. “Trophy Wife” derives its entertainment value in exploring the dynamic between these big personalities. Akerman — who came across as delightfully bratty in the otherwise mediocre “27 Dresses” (2008) — nails Kate as the savvy and good-natured trophy wife. Akerman is charming and has admirable comedic chops; for example, her character chugs a bottle of vodka in the pilot. As Kate works to find her place in this complicated family, Akerman makes the character her own, imbuing Kate with a pleasantly surprising maturity and likability. Without a character this endearing and layered, “Trophy Wife” would likely not succeed. The writers made a smart decision to make a joke of the show’s title: Kate is not the typical trophy wife — she only appears to be from an outsider’s perspective. This ironic twist safely steers the show away from potentially sexist or hackneyed plotlines.
While “Trophy Wife” is off to a solid start, it has a few obstacles in the way of success. The first of these issues is Meg (Natalie Morales), Kate’s young, vaguely irresponsible friend. The interactions between Meg and her married friend only make Kate less likeable. Meg’s sole purpose, it would seem, is to listen to Kate complain about her life. If the writers are trying to find a flaw in Kate’s character they don’t need Meg to do it. The often-rash decisions she makes in order to endear herself to the ex-wives and her stepchildren allow audiences to question her judgment (while also serving as comedic fodder).
“Trophy Wife” is also faced with a more practical dilemma: Its unfortunate time slot places it between poorly-reviewed new comedy “The Goldbergs” (2013) and a freshman drama, “Lucky 7” (2013). Although the pilot premiered online early, giving viewers a taste of the show, any buzz from this early release will not automatically deliver solid ratings. “Trophy Wife” deserves the post-“Modern Family” slot, whose lead-in would do wonders for this new sitcom. Hopefully it will find its way to better scheduling when networks perform the inevitable time slot shuffle as new shows get axed. “Trophy Wife” is a strong comedy and it does not deserve to get lost in the seemingly endless jumble of subpar sitcoms.