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With the official start of the 2005-06 season less than two months away, the drumbeats have begun by the networks to tout their new comedies and dramas. What should you keep your eye out for? What should you avoid at all costs? While it's still a little early for full reviews (some recasting and reshooting will be done on a good chunk of them), we thought we'd spend the next month previewing what's in store for the upcoming season. Each day we'll look at two of the 47 new series set to premiere this season and go over our initial impressions after viewing the pilot.
There's no particular order here, just whatever's next on the stack of tapes. So without further ado, here's today's entries:
SONS & DAUGHTERS (ABC)
(TBA at midseason)
The network's description: "Family is always unpredictable, so why write a family comedy when you can live dangerously and improvise instead? Like real families, you never know what will happen when you give characters total freedom. Adult siblings Cameron, Sharon and Jenna have many years of shared history in this small town. Like every other family on the planet, their history includes many mistakes. This is proven by the multiple marriages and many children in their close extended clan. Sharon has postponed her mid-life crisis for the sake of her kids, but her sexless marriage, slacker son and nosey daughter don't make things easy for her. Jenna, the youngest, wanted to be a singer, but instead is a single mom who still lives at home. Luckily her parents love babysitting their grandson. Middle child Cameron, despite having kids from two marriages and a difficult relationship with his oldest son, Henry, is the glue that holds the family together. With all the messy interpersonal relationships, rivalries and religious differences, everyone needs someone to be the family's designated driver."
What did they leave out: It's probably the least "ABC" comedy the network has put on in years. If anything it feels like an extention of Bravo's short-lived comedy "Significant Others" (which also featured Fred Goss).
The plot in a nutshell: As noted, Cameron (Fred Goss) is the glue that holds together his dysfunctional family, which is built on multiple marriages by himself and his parents. At the center there's his new wife Liz (Gillian Vigman), their young daughter Marni (Alexandra Gold Jourden) and son Ezra (Noah Applebaum), and his son Henry (Trevor Einhorn) from his previous marriage. Cameron also has two sisters: eldest Sharon (Alison Quinn) is trapped in a sexless marriage with Don (Jerry Lambert), whom she has two children including the nosey Kerry (Eden Sher), and youngest Jenna (Corri English, who's actually his half-sister) got pregnant as a teen and struggles to get by waiting tables. At the head of the clan then is Wendal (Max Gail), Cameron's step-father, and Colleen (Dee Wallace), Cameron's mom. Last, but not least, is Cameron's great aunt Rae (Lois Hall), who isn't quiet about disapproving of Cameron's marriage to Liz, a Jew. (Don't worry, on screen reminders help you keep track of who is who.) Anyway, the pilot revolves around throwing Wendal and Colleen a 25th wedding anniversary party. But Wendal himself throws a wrench into things by confessing to Cameron he plans to leave his mom.
What works: If you were a fan at all of Bravo's "Significant Others" you're going to dig this show quite a bit. Shot in a similar pseudo-documentary style and featuring the same dry sense of humor, the show whisks you between each "household" and their own respective dysfunctions: Sharon (Cameron's sister) for instance finds evidence that her husband has been sneaking out at night to. . . play the harmonica ("If playing the harmonica is wrong, I don't want to be right!" he confesses), while Henry (Cameron's son from his first marriage) enjoys pranking his family (which includes laying mousetraps on his half-brother's chair and putting a Hitler mustache on a sleeping Aunt Rae) for his own web broadcast. Like I said it's all weirdly goofy fun. There's also a few memorable lines/moments: when Cameron tells Sharon she's pretty, she responds "I'm pretty in Cincinnati, not a general sense"; little Marni (Cameron's daughter with his new wife) blurts out "Hey grandma, did you hear we're going to hell cause we're Jews?" after hearing derogatory comments from Aunt Rae; when Henry tells his dad he invited his mom to the party, Cameron shoots back "you invited my ex-wife?"; and Wendal randomly confesses "I stole your Newsweek from the downstairs bathroom" when leaving the party.
What doesn't: As the failure of "Significant Others" proved, there's a limited audience for this type of show. It's not particularly laugh out loud funny just more along the lines of an amusing way to spend a half-hour. The family dynamics also feel unnecessarily complicated, but to its credit doesn't become too confusing. There also isn't an easily recognizable face in the group, but again to its credit it feels like footage of a real family because of this. Overall, there's not much to complain about.
The challenges ahead: Will viewers really want to check out such a un-ABC show? And where exactly on ABC's schedule will a show like this belong? We'll learn sometime next year on ABC.