Welcome to Pilot Perception, our feature in which we break down the first episode of each new show in order to help you decide whether it’s worth your time.
NOTE: In the U.S., at least, the show is currently scheduled to move to Thursdays at the end of October, when Thursday Night Football ends and Supergirl begins. We’ll let you know in our weekly TV news column if this changes.
The Pedigree: Life in Pieces was created by Justin Adler (Better Off Ted, Samantha Who?), who wrote the pilot and executive produces with Jason Winer (Modern Family, The Crazy Ones), Aaron Kaplan (Chasing Life, The Mysteries of Laura), and Jeffrey Morton (Modern Family, Don’t Trust the B—- in Apt 23). Winer directed the pilot.
The Cast & How You Know Them: The large ensemble cast includes James Brolin (Marcus Welby, M.D., Castle), Dianne Wiest (Law & Order, In Treatment), Betsy Brandt (Breaking Bad, The Michael J. Fox Show), Colin Hanks (The Good Guys, Fargo), Thomas Sadoski (The Newsroom, The Slap), Dan Bakkedahl (The Mindy Project, Veep), Angelique Cabral (Friends with Benefits, Enlisted), Zoe Lister-Jones (Whitney, New Girl), Niall Cunningham (Awkward), Holly J. Barrett (Hetty Feather), and Giselle Eisenberg (The Wolf of Wall Street).
The Premise: Life in Pieces is a comedy that focuses on the milestones of three adult siblings in different stages of their lives — from dating to the birth of a first child to a child going off to college — along with the everyday lives of them and their parents and kids.
What Works: This cast. This cast! They’re so, so good. I’ve loved all three of the actors playing the siblings (Brandt, Hanks, Sadoski) in their roles on other late lamented shows, and I am so excited to get a fix of all of them together every week. The characters and relationships felt very real, and I’m already genuinely invested in this whole wacky family. The kids were (so far, cross your fingers) completely unannoying, which is shocking for a family comedy. And the structure is interesting — rather than cutting back and forth throughout the episode, each sibling gets a vignette, and then the whole family is together for the last act. This made the episode fly by and gave the audience enough concentrated time to buy into each story. Lastly — and I can’t believe this is something I have to call out as praiseworthy, but it is — this had fewer offensive “jokes” than pretty much any comedy pilot I can think of in the last several years: less racist, less misogynist, etc. Well done, writers.
What Doesn’t: While I like the structure, as I said, the fairly separate vignettes also mean that since some characters/plotlines will be more appealing to viewers than others, there may be whole acts of the show that prompt segments of the audience to mentally tune out. (Of course, these will be different acts for different groups of viewers, tastes being what they are.) In the pilot, I was least interested in Matt (Thomas Sadoski)’s story; it wasn’t a problem here but could become one if any one story becomes something that viewers feel they need to “get through” for weeks on end. Other than that, I really don’t have much bad to say — it doesn’t seem like this will be the most shocking or edgiest or even funniest show, but everything doesn’t have to be, and there’s something to be said for a reliable, quiet feel-good show once in a while. (Honestly? “Put me in a better mood after watching something I hated” gets a lot of points in my book this week.)
Our Favorite Line: “He’s harmless, really. He went to Vassar.”
You Might Like This if you like multigenerational family comedies, or comedies about basically good and well-meaning people who care about each other and are trying to figure out their lives. (Sounds hokey, but it’s true!) It’s getting a lot of comparisons to Modern Family, but to me it felt a lot like a comedy version of Parenthood. And — dare I say? — the adult sibling relationships reminded me a bit of Enlisted in the way they have conflicts and tease each other but clearly actually love each other. In any case, this is one of the new shows I’m most hopeful about at this point.
(Photo courtesy of CBS.)