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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.]
LITTLE IN COMMON (FOX)
(written by Rob Thomas; directed by Adam Bernstein; TRT: 23:46)
The network's description: "In March, while GLEE takes a break before its spring semester return, FOX will continue the laughs on Tuesdays with a block of four half-hour comedies. The night will feature the critically acclaimed RAISING HOPE, new comedies I HATE MY TEENAGE DAUGHTER (wt) and NEW GIRL (wt), as well as one of the additional comedies in development, including FAMILY ALBUM (working title) and LITTLE IN COMMON (working title). Starring Mike O'Malley (GLEE) and Rachael Harris ("The Hangover"), FAMILY ALBUM (wt) is the single-camera comedy that takes a snapshot of the Bronsky clan as they reveal the hilarious stories behind the photo-worthy moments of life. The new family comedy LITTLE IN COMMON (wt), starring Rob Corddry ("Hot Tub Time Machine") and Kevin Hart ("Death at a Funeral"), follows three diverse middle-class families who become intertwined when their children play on youth sports teams together."
What did they leave out? As part of its retooling, Paula Marshall's character is reportedly being recast while Lombardo Boyar's is being written out in favor of making Alanna Ubach's single.
The plot in a nutshell: Last at bat. Bases loaded. Two outs. "This is bigger than a game, this is class warfare," Fairview baseball coach Ty Burleson (Kevin Hart) explains to a timid Donovan Weller (Skyler Gisondo) about their rich kid opponents from Deer Park. "This is your chance to stick it to whitey!" "Coach," Donovan replies. "You know I'm white right?" "No you're not, not to me," Ty fires back. "Not now, you're better than that. You're better than white people." And with that we jump back to a week earlier and the confluence of events that lead to said event.
Meet Donovan's parents: Californians Dennis (Rob Corddry) and Ellie (Paula Marshall), who've just moved to Austin where the former now serves as the middle school's principal. Much to their surprise, square peg Donovan announces he'd like to play for the town's baseball team, a decision more likely to come from their tomboy daughter Minnie (Izabela Vidovic). "Are you sure about this?" Dennis muses. "The only sport you've ever shown any interest in is quidditch." And so Dennis
endeavors to convince the aforementioned Ty to let him on the team. He's successful, but only because Ty incorrectly assumes Donovan shares his sister's athletic prowess.
Meanwhile, Ellie endeavors to make nice with their bombastic new neighbors, the Pachecos - Benny (Lombardo Boyar) and Maya (Alanna Ubach), whose daughter Gabby (Jamie White) likewise plays for Ty's team. She's not particularly thrilled with their relentless outdoor movie screenings, dangerous trampoline and general laissez-faire attitude when it comes to raising their kids. Furthermore, Dennis and Ellie both fear Ty and his wife Brooke's (Gabrielle Union) overzealous win-at-all-costs attitude may be setting a bad example for their son. All of said issues come to a head during a dinner party at the Pachecos where a misunderstanding makes the Wellers look even worse by comparison.
What works: It's a legitimately funny show, one that manages to mine the usual parenting tropes and reengineer them in a way that's a lot of fun. Corddry and Hart in particular are aces here, whether it's Dennis's perpetual sigh when it comes to Donovan's antics (Donovan: "Dad, check it out: I'm a baseball guy now." Dennis: "Yeah, you know I think they call them players.") or Ty's amusingly hostile reaction to just about everything ("They've got 600 thread count Egyptian cotton sheets," he adds about said Deer Park team. "Don't nobody need sheets that soft. And they've got the nerve to come up here in our house!").
The true highlight though comes as a result of the aforementioned "Curb Your Enthusiasm"-esque mix-up, as Dennis inadvertently makes a racist comment and then proceeds to dig himself an even bigger hole (Dennis, trying to prove he's not racist: "We have a numbered Frida Kahlo print, okay? I voted no on Prop 12!" Ellie: "Javier Bardem is at the top of my freebie list, tell them!" Maya: "He's Spanish, but thanks."). Plus, who doesn't love the idea of "Hunter" himself, Fred Dryer, turning up as the stereotypical mean neighbor everyone stays away from.
What doesn't: For a cast of 12 regulars - three sets of parents, each with a son and a daughter (Campbell Williams, Curtis Harris and Rowan Blanchard co-star as the remaining youngsters) - only a fraction ultimately make an impression. Beyond Minnie and Donovan, very few of the kids get any screen time while Union's Brooke surprisingly seems to get lost in the shuffle. Logline aside, the end product is very much the Weller show, a disheartening development considering the script was so diligent in giving backstories to all 12 characters, the bulk of which aren't touched on. One hopes the recastings, reshooting and so forth fan the established flames even further because at the end of the day...
The bottom line: ...it's a funny show.