Call them the walking wounded, I guess. I like the actors in NBC’s Welcome to the Family and CBS’s The Millers, but neither immediately struck me as un-skippable, and a couple of weeks after watching the pilots, I had to rewatch both to remind myself of what happened. The answer, as you probably guessed, is “not much.” I’m very, very, very happy that so many performers I adore are getting steady paychecks (for now, anyway), but that’s about as far as my goodwill can extend.
Welcome to the Family, about what happens when a Mexican-American boy (Joseph Haro) gets his Anglo girlfriend (Ella Rae Peck) pregnant right before high school graduation, is a culture-clash sitcom, wacky but earnest in that Modern Family sorta way. The premise might remind you of CBS’s short-lived ¡Rob! — although I’m sure my invoking that failed Rob Schneider vehicle will please nobody at NBC.
But here’s the weird thing: While the Schneider sitcom about an obsessive-compulsive Anglo man and his Mexican-American wife was no great shakes as comedy, at least it had a bit of an edge — a sense that it existed in large part to “go there” and deal with inconvenient but real situations. Welcome to the Family has no edge at all, not even a pretend edge. In case you didn’t already realize that every major character in the program is a genuinely nice person who means well but is under a lot of very understandable pressure, and that neither they nor the sitcom are anywhere close to being truly racist, the pilot’s tone goes out of its way to reassure you that everything’s going to be hunky dory — and sure enough, any comic unease that’s generated when the Sidney Poitier–perfect Junior Hernandez (Haro) knocks up the cutely but stridently feminist Molly Yoder (Peck) ebbs in no time flat. The main couple’s parents (Mike O’Malley and Mary McCormack; Ricardo A. Chavira and Justina Machado) are warm and loving and frisky; they’re just great people. Any misunderstandings generated in the first few minutes are solved in the final moments, with such seeming completeness that you can scarcely imagine the need for another episode. Did I mention how much I like these actors?
The Millers has a great cast, too: Will Arnett as Nathan Miller, a local newsman who got a divorce from his wife right before his parents (Beau Bridges and Margot Martindale) came to visit. Nathan’s decision prompts Bridges’s Tom to divorce Martindale’s Carol, and complications, as they say, ensue. My big problem with The Millers is that this sudden-divorce premise never convinces, not as psychologically realistic (not that we’d expect that anyway) nor as pure farce. The cast, including Jayma Mays of Glee, does everything it can to spin gold from straw, and they try so hard that after a while, those masochistic curmudgeons who haven’t switched off might root for them to succeed at this impossible goal. Series creator Greg Garcia has been responsible for some truly special TV comedies, including My Name Is Earl and Raising Hope. This isn’t one of them.