[06/06/11 - 10:18 PM]
The Futon's First Look: "My Freakin' Family" (ABC)
By Brian Ford Sullivan (TFC)

Please note: As a courtesy, please do not reproduce these comments to newsgroups, forums or other online places. Links only please.

Welcome once again to our annual "first look" at the broadcast networks' offerings for the 2011-2012 season, now in its sixth year! Each day we'll walk you through one of the new series set to premiere next season (or one that didn't make the cut) and go over our initial impressions after viewing the pilot. Keep in mind that a lot can change from what's being screened right now - recasting, reshooting, etc. - but we still want to give you a heads up on what you should (and shouldn't) keep on your radar in the coming months. So enough of our rambling, on with the show!

[IMPORTANT NOTE: The following is based on the original sales presentation which was screened to us privately or supplied by a third party NOT an informational, not-for-review screener provided by the network in question.]

(written by Erica Rivinoja; directed by Tristram Shapeero; TRT: 22:30)

The network's description: "Young parents Raj and Anna are from two totally different worlds. The diverse heritage of multicultural families like theirs can pose some interesting challenges. But they can definitely agree on one thing: their parents are totally off their rockers - especially when it comes to grandchildren. Anna (Ellen Woglom) and Raj (Ravi Patel) envision raising their baby boy, Clark, together on their own terms. But reality has a way of intruding on even the best intentions - or in this case, the baby's grandparents have a way of intruding. Anna's meddling conservative parents and much younger "miracle" sister have come to help with the baby and show no signs of leaving. And now they've decided to raise some money for Clark's college by entering him in a beauty contest dressed as a girl.

Raj's once-absent-but-now-devoted mother (Cybill Shepherd) is building a nursery nicer than Anna and Raj's whole apartment - all part of her determination to give Clark the childhood that Raj never had. All Anna and Raj have to do is tell their parents to back off and do things their way. That shouldn't be too hard, right? Anna and Raj's parents may be a little over-the-top, but as Anna and Raj eventually realize, it really does take a village to raise a child - even if the village is a little "out there." Creator/writer Erica Rivinoja (South Park, Grounded for Life) has ripped these hilarious stories right out of her own life to create the new face of family in this unconventional yet authentic comedy from executive producer Peter Traugott (Samantha Who?)."

What did they leave out? The project was originally entitled "Cowboys & Indians."

The plot in a nutshell: "Anna (Ellen Woglom) and Raj (Ravi Patel) had always heard that a new baby fills a house with love," explains the opening narration. "What they didn't know was that it also fills a house with grandparents." Case in point: Anna's folks Gary (Christopher Rich) and Maureen (Mo Gaffney) have been "visiting" from Arizona for three months. And if them doing unspeakable things to the Aerobed wasn't disturbing enough, they've entered young Clark into the Groovy Glittler Dolls pageant... dressed as a girl. Anna however is terrified of standing up to her parents so she and Raj try something more subtle: a going away party to nudge them out of the nest, timed with the same week Clark is set to begin daycare. Gary and Maureen nevertheless have on caveat: they won't budge until Clark is baptized. The impromptu solution: have the baptism as part of the going away party.

Not surprisingly, this is only the start of Anna and Raj's problems. His usually hands-off parents - Pradip (Harish Patel) and Nell (Cybill Shepherd), newly afraid her grandson will grow up too white like Raj did - have offered not only their home to host the party but their services in lieu of daycare. And much like Anna, Raj finds he's unable to say anything to stop it from happening. This of course steps on the expected landmines: Gary and Maureen are horrified they're being shipped off so Pradip and Nell can babysit while Pradip and Nell are likewise shocked to hear Anna and Raj are letting Clark get baptized. Things escalate from there - Nell plans her own Indian naming ceremony - and before long Anna and Raj are left with no choice but to speak up. The good news: it works. The bad news: Gary, Maureen, Pradip and Nell are all here to stay.

What works: More cute than laugh-out-loud funny, the show has some amusingly silly moments: grandfathers Gary and Pradip develop an oddball bromance with each other (Gary: "If chicken fighting with the most wonderful man on the planet is gay, I don't want to be straight."), while grandmothers Nell and Maureen smile at each other through gritted teeth ("It's a little family tradition of ours," Maureen snips at Nell over the aforementioned baptism. "To keep our children out of hell."). Throw in some random ethnocentric dalliances - Llewelyn (Melissa Tang, Anna's Asian younger sister as the result of an in vitro mishap): "What happened to our Lutheran pastor?" Gary, dragging a Korean pastor along: "They're too uptight to do a last minute baptism. That's what I love about Korean Presbyterians: they play ball." - and it's not without its charms.

What doesn't: While they're supposed to be the straight men when contrasted with their colorful parents, Woglom's Anna and Patel's Raj feel far too bland. Being timid and non-confrontational is cute to a point but they're effortlessly played off stage by Gaffney, Shepherd and company. Even Tang's Llewelyn, who has but a handful of lines in the pilot, walks away at least leaving an impression (in the form of a dance tribute to Clark complete with a fog machine). If I wasn't taking notes I'd have forgotten Raj works at a recording studio and Anna is apparently a doctor. It ultimately makes the show feel malleable and unsure of itself as events flimsily ping pong between the larger personalities on the show, leaving the protagonists - not to mention the funny - to...

The bottom line: ...get lost in the shuffle.

  [june 2011]  


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