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"Happy Family" Review

By Shawn McKenzie 09/16/2003

I was just mentioning in my review of “Whoopi” that most of the reviews I had seen of that show were negative.  I’ve also seen mostly negative reviews of the new show that follows it on NBC, “Happy Family.”  Unlike “Whoopi,” I really liked this show, despite what other critics might think.


Peter and Annie Brennan (John Larroquette and Christine Baranski) were looking forward to finally having an empty nest.  Two of their three children had already moved out, and their youngest, Tim (Tyler Francavilla), was going to be next after his graduation from junior college.  He was going to move out and go to a four-year college, leaving them all alone.  Unfortunately, Tim didn’t graduate, a fact that he tells them on graduation day.  They decide to practice some tough love and kick him out, but he ends up moving in with the neighbor lady, Maggie (Susan Gibney.)  Maggie had been Annie’s tennis partner, but she had no idea that the older woman was in a relationship with her son.  This drives her and Peter crazy, but Tim isn’t the only one frustrating them.  Their oldest son, Todd (Jeff Davis), is engaged to Jeannie (Elizabeth Bennett), but he is having an affair with Susan (Amy Farrington.)  Peter is especially having a problem with this, because he thinks Todd is perfect.  Sara (Melanie Paxson), their middle child, is their most successful kid in terms of career (she’s a vice president of a bank), but she is the least successful when it comes to relationships.  She is extremely needy, and hangs with her parents a little too much.  The empty nest will probably have to be put on hold for now while Peter and Annie deal with their screwed-up kids.


The first episode sets up the show’s premise.  They are getting ready for Tim’s graduation when they find out that he isn’t graduating.  Sara bought a bird named Eric to get over loneliness.  Peter and Annie decide to kick Tim out.  Sara comes over the next night in a nice dress to play Scrabble (why is she so pathetic?  She’s a good-looking woman!)  Annie is concerned that Tim is missing when he doesn’t answer his cell while moving out.  She and Peter find Tim in his underwear next door at Maggie’s house.  They find out that Tim and Maggie fell in love while she was going through her divorce from her husband Bill.  Sara thinks it is unfair that Tim has met someone and she hasn’t, so she goes to a bar to try and get picked up (which doesn’t happen.)  Peter and Annie go over to Todd’s apartment to get his help and discover him with Susan.  They go back to Maggie’s house and allow Tim to live with Maggie.


The second episode continues where the first one left off.  Annie deals with the Tim problem while Peter deals with the Todd problem.  Annie thinks he might be able to break Tim and Maggie up by taking him to the mall and talking to him.  Peter tries to talk Todd into sticking with Jeannie, but he has made his mind to go with Susan.  They decide to tell Jeannie at dinner that night, but Todd is too much of a wimp to do so.  Sara of course takes Todd’s decision about Jeannie and Susan personally, because he is throwing away a woman when she can’t even get a man.


For some reason I just love “frustration comedy,” and no one does that better than Larroquette.  He has to deal with the frustratingly absurd situations around him, and realizes that there’s little he can do but cope.  Francavilla does the stupid kid act perfectly.  The only thing that I didn’t like about the show was Paxson’s character.  The pathetic girl act is funny now, but it could get old quickly.  They need to give her an actual storyline too, or I predict her character slowly fading away.


The writing on this show is hilarious.  I loved the lines they gave to describe Tim.  Annie was reminiscing that Tim grew up wanting to be a car, and later blamed Peter for Tim’s current failure because he didn’t believe Tim could be a car.  Annie realizes that she should have known Tim hadn’t graduated when he told her his major was “Historical Stuff.”  I also like how they have a continuous storyline.  That is a rare thing on a sitcom, because most sitcoms prefer to be singular in their episodes (in case the audience misses an episode.)

Happy Family” is NBC’s best new comedy (believe me, I’ve seen the others, including their Thursday night darling “Coupling”), and it might be the funniest new comedy this season.  I hope its death slot on Tuesday nights doesn’t kill it, because I want to visit this family every week.


Ratings System:


Try to catch this show every week...

If a better show is on, tape this one...

If nothing else is on, maybe this will be good...

If this show is on, change the channel immediately!


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