Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Trophy Wife Series Premiere Review: "Pilot" - Ironic, Don't You Think?

Malin Ackerman is a sloppy drunk in "Trophy Wife"

Let’s get the important stuff out of the way first.  The title “Trophy Wife” is being used ironically here.  Malin Ackerman’s Kate and Bradley Whitford’s Pete have a nice little meet-cute in a karaoke bar in the opening minutes that leads to a not quite so cute broken nose, emergency room visit, and immediate introduction to Pete’s entire broken, extended family (two ex-wives and three kids) before Pete, immediately in the wake of having his nose reset by ex-wife #1 (a doctor), even asks her out for coffee.  That the show is able to spin this love story out in two minutes, convincingly demonstrating why Kate would fall for a schlubby lawyer 18 years her senior is a testament to the efficient storytelling of co-creators Emily Halpern and Sarah Haskins.  Kate’s life is a bit messy.  Pete’s life is a bit messy.  And their messes mesh in ways that let them find gaps where the other fits perfectly, preferably on “Tuesday, Thursday, and every other weekend.”

I love the casting of Ackerman.  She’s required to play a lot of roles here: aging party girl, reluctant mom, cool mom, frazzled new wife, and steady, happy wife, but she pulls it all off nicely.  And she has great chemistry with Whitford.  Part of what makes Trophy Wife so great is that, in 22 minutes, we see these two characters fit into each other’s lives like an actual husband and wife.  There’s no “trophy” here, just a happily married couple.

Of course, what drives the comedy is not the happy couple, but the insanity that surrounds them.  Marcia Gay Harden plays the Type-A first wife, with a pair of children between them, while Michaela Watkins plays the loopy, hippy second wife, with an adopted Chinese son.  And what’s great here is that we instantly see how Kate fits in with every member of the family.  What we essentially have is a “One New Guy” pilot and the main priority in any One New Guy pilot is to understand by the end how these characters all relate to each other.  And here we get that.  We see Kate trying to be the “cool mom” by making breakfast in the morning and telling party stories (“You can stop trying so hard.  Nobody thinks of you as mom.  Just think of yourself as dad’s third wife.”).  We get an incredibly embarrassing teacher meeting with Diane.  We even get the Malcolm in the Middle-esque scene of mass chaos and yelling.

There is a small problem with the pilot, however.  Ackerman is a freaking star through all of this: whether it’s downing a bottle of vodka, playing fall-down drunk, or reveling in being proven not to be the source of Ryan’s fantasies.  But it’s clear that this is a star vehicle for her.  Every scene that she’s not in is cut away from incredibly quickly, as though they don’t want us to forget what she’s doing.  It could just be a quirk of the pilot, but it makes the two subplots feel much underserved.

The Trophy Wife pilot isn’t perfect by any means, but it is easily the best I’ve seen this year.  The casting is fantastic, though the daughter has apparently been recast since the pilot.  The writing is quippy and great at character building.  The best that most of the other pilots have made me say is “this could be interesting.”  But Trophy Wife is the first to make me really want to see more.

A couple of spare thoughts –

Having Phyllis Smith read Warren’s Poseidon erotica was pretty spectacular.

“’sup MILF?”  “Shut up, toolbox.”

“These are not grapefruits, these are peaches at most.  Not complaining.  Not relevant.”

“You’re not even a real grownup.  Your car is full of garbage and shoes.”

So thoughts?  Comments?  Just want to tell me my blog sucks?  Let me know in the comments or on Twitter @TyTalksTV.

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