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tv review

Seitz: How to Live With Your Parents Is a Charming Study of Arrested Development

Arrested Development’s influence is all over ABC’s likable but unfortunately titled How to Live With Your Parents (For the Rest of Your Life) (ABC, Wednesdays, 9:30). Fast cutting, cute onscreen I.D. tags, plinky-plonky music, winsome narration: It’s all here, plus Modern Family’s conventional-unconventional view of suburban life. One of the show’s three executive producers is Arrested Development vet Brian Grazer, but I doubt his presence alone explains the affinity; more likely this is just how creator-executive producer Claudia Lonow (Rude Awakenings, The War at Home) saw the story. Whatever the motivation, the result is quite likable, if knowingly obnoxious at times.

Sarah Chalke plays the heroine and narrator, Polly, a recent divorcée with a young daughter named Natalie (Rachel Eggleston). She moves back in with her mom, Elaine (Elizabeth Perkins), and stepdad, Max (Brad Garrett), thinking it’ll be a temporary safe harbor, but a year later she’s still there, working at a local coffee shop and trying to piece her life back together. She’s almost as hapless as your typical doofus-y sitcom husband, and nearly as exasperating. She judges her parents’ eccentricities, including her mother’s eternal-flower-child approach to sex and alcohol (“Sixty is the new 30,” Elaine insists), but she still sleeps under their roof and eats their food and leans on them for babysitting after she lands a date with a hunky coffee shop patron whom she’s nicknamed “Jewish Superman.” There’s a lot of that going around nowadays, though, and anyone who’s been there will recognize Polly’s conflicted response: a mix of gratitude, relief, resentment, and shame. It’s hard to tell if Polly was always immature-acting or if her personal setback caused her to regress. “I’m not a failure; I’m trendy,” she says, so halfheartedly that she can’t convince herself, much less her folks.

How to Live With Your Parents doesn’t have much that’s new to say; the pilot boasts some business that feels desperate even by TV comedy standards (including a running gag about testicular cancer), and there are so many scenes where the grown-ups discuss inappropriate subjects in front of little Natalie that it seems as if it’s not the characters who have boundary issues, but the show itself. And yet this is still a charming series, and the cast gets plenty of mileage out of the role-reversal at the show’s heart. How to Live feels a bit like Family Ties plus twenty years of aging and minus the simplistic left-right politics. The parents are earthier and freer than their adult daughter, which is nice for them, and fuel for their still-raucous sex life; but on the minus side, they apparently did such a half-assed job of raising Polly that Elaine can’t remember ever having given her a bath. Everyone on this show is a work-in-progress, but not 24 hours a day; they’re always learning, except when they’re not listening or thinking. “There are so many choices I could make,” Polly confesses to her mom. “I could screw Natalie up, and I won’t know which one was bad until she’s grown up and mad at me!” Who said “The child is mother to the mom”? Nobody? Ah, well. I’ll close with an Arrested Development quote instead: “This is a Bluth family celebration. It's no place for children.”

Photo: null/ABC