Pay no mind to the baffled grunts, strangled moans and once in a while squeals of delight you hear around your neighborhood during TV prime time Tuesday. Those are just Disney shareholders, trying to figure out if they spent their money wisely. No network invested more heavily in this years fall season than Disneys ABC, and half of its eight shows debut Tuesday.
The verdict: A definitive Who knows? Theres one surprisingly funny sitcom, one surprisingly inane sitcom, one able but puzzling drama and, most intriguingly, a comic-book adaptation that ABC is promoting heavily but didnt provide to most TV critics in time to review.
The no-show is Marvels Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, a kind of sequel to the hit feature film Marvels The Avengers. If you want to be optimistic, the show has Clark Gregg reprising his role as the grumbling, blue-collar agent Phil Coulson, and its produced by the beloved fantasy auteur Josh Whedon.
If you want to be pessimistic, Whedons last TV series, Dollhouse, was an enigmatic exercise in pinheadery, and TV networks ordinarily are the business of plying critics with hookers, drugs and spare internal organs to get them to watch pilots rather than holding them back, which suggests something amiss.
Reluctantly turning from rank speculation to shows Ive actually seen, about the only mean thing I can find to say about the sitcom Trophy Wife is that series creator Sarah Haskins, who claims the show is based on her own life, has a very healthy ego. Casting a honey-and-a-half like Malin Akerman ( 27 Dresses) as yourself is roughly the equivalent of my suggesting that Tom Cruise play me in the upcoming biopic The TV Critic From Hell.
That aside, Akerman has wit and style, and so does the show, which is not the swirling bimbomania you might expect from the title. Like its network stablemate Modern Family, Trophy Wife is a sweetly funny tale of parents and kids uncertainly making their way along the largely uncharted map of blended-family life.
Akerman plays an ex-party girl named Kate who met her older husband (Bradley Whitford, The West Wing) when she fell on top of him from a barroom karaoke stage. The marriage was a package deal that included two frosty ex-wives and teenage twins not much younger than Kate.
Warren (Ryan Lee, Super 8) is enthusiastic about his lithe blonde stepmom, perhaps overly so. (He promptly writes a story for his English class about the mythic god Poseiden that begins, His mighty trident ripped through his well, you get the picture.) His dismissive sister, Hillary (Bailee Madison, Once Upon a Time), has seen it all before: Nobody expects you to be a mom. Just think of yourself more as his third wife.
Kate is no airhead, but shes also no domestic engineer. Cooking breakfast inevitably ends in a bitter confrontation with the smoke alarm, and shes hilariously slow to realize that stuff her friends find amusing say, how she smuggled vodka into a classroom play more like how-to tips with the kids. And her conversations with the exes (stern doctor Marcia Gay Harden and New Age loop-de-loop Michaela Watkins) are passive-aggressive epics.
Theres also plenty of good writing and acting in the drama Lucky 7, though to exactly what purpose is difficult to say. This tale of a bunch of gas-station employees who win the lottery is sometimes reminiscent of ABCs wildly underrated 2006 caper sitcom The Knights of Prosperity, about a bunch of down-at-the-heels blue-collar workers ineptly plotting to rob celebrities.