On Wednesday night ABC debuted their latest sitcom, How to Live with Your Parents (For the Rest of Your Life), starring Sarah Chalke and Brad Garrett. Chalke plays Polly, a newly single mother forced to move back in with her mother and stepfather. The humor in the show seems to be centered around Polly's relationship with her parents, which is strained by their hippie-like openness and her more tightly wound demeanor. I say it only “seems” to center there because there's such a lack of humor overall that it's difficult to be sure. Despite the pedigreed cast, How to Live with Your Parents' tepid efforts at comedy are as sparse as they are ineffective, and the show is a dud.
I had reasonably high hopes coming into the pilot. Sarah Chalke was always charming and funny on Scrubs, and Brad Garrett was certainly the best part of Everybody Loves Raymond. Unfortunately, they just aren't given the material to succeed. None of the jokes were particularly clever or popped in the slightest. I kept waiting for snappy comeback or a poignant observation, but all I got was humdrum hijinks and some flirting with the line of vulgarity. Garrett's character had testicular cancer and had one removed, so they make jokes about it in an obviously prime-time network TV sort of way.
This brand of half-assed risqué humor mars the entire show. How to Live with Your Parents is overrun with forgettable one-liners from the “I'm kooky in a totally conventional way” mom, played by Elizabeth Perkins. Her shock value jokes were never shocking enough, and her weirdness was trite at best. Trying to seem like you are pushing the envelope without actually pushing it is the height of lameness. And to make matters worse, the rare successes at being gauche completely lacked comedic value and were just unpleasant
I was also put off by the ways in which the show breaks the fourth wall. Cartoonish labels like “Me (Polly)” with an arrow next to it, and copious voice-over as expositional tools are almost always tacky, and this sitcom is no exception. I'm also pretty sure I caught Chalke mugging at the camera a la Jim Halpert of The Office, though this may have been incidental. Truth the told, the fact that it's ambiguous is even more upsetting than either of the options. It's bad enough to break the fourth wall, but I should at least be able to tell when you're doing it.
There is a small silver lining to ABC's latest failure, and it's is a classic saving grace for many a bad sitcom: the dumb guy. On How to Live with Your Parents (For the Rest of Your Life), Polly's ex-husband Julian, played by John Dore, is still in the picture trying to win her back. He's a fairly stereotypical screw-up, but his bit of calling his former in-laws “mom and dad” was surprisingly funny, and his moment of stupid wisdom was very well executed. I don't think there's going to be nearly enough of him to sustain the show.
There's just not enough to like about How to Live Your Parents. It feigns edginess, offers almost no surprises, and fails to deliver anything resembling the wit of its time-slot companion, Modern Family. As much as I like Sarah Chalke and Brad Garrett, ABC has totally missed the mark on this one.