ABC is going all in on Tuesday nights, with four new shows premiering, beginning with "Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D". Considering that show's cat's cradle of demographic attractions — Comic books! Joss Whedon! Clark Gregg!! — ABC decided it could go fairly wide in the subsequent hours, with disappointing results.
"The Goldbergs," a family comedy set in the 1980s, is based on creator Adam Golderg's childhood, which he obsessively documented with the family video camera. Like the required-viewing slide show, the home movie is, and I think we are all agreed on this, of limited interest to family members, much less the general public.
Limited. Interest. Even with a cast that includes "Curb Your Enthusiasm's" Jeff Garlin, Wendi McLendon-Covey ("Bridesmaids") and George Segal.
Garlin plays Murray (Dad) and mostly yells a lot; McLendon-Covey plays Beverly (Mom), who is forced by the timeline to wear crazy '80s hair, high-waisted jeans and shoulder pads. She also yells a lot.
Segal, as Pops, does not yell. Instead, he references his sex life while instructing his 11-year old grandson Adam (Sean Giambrone) on pick-up lines and groping techniques.
Much is made in the pilot of young Adam's budding interest in girls as well as middle-child Barry's (Troy Gentile) high-strung nature and love of Flavor Flav. Teenage daughter Erica (Hayley Orrantia) does little more than roll her eyes occasionally, which, alas, is the only appropriate reaction here.
For all that it springs from original material — a coda to the pilot shows some of the actual home movies, which are indeed hilarious — "The Goldbergs" is all style and no substance.
The '80s are a distracting era anyway, what with their relative proximity and those shoulder pads, but Goldberg only adds to the confusion. Where he may experience yelling as a fascinating form of communication, the rest of us just hear a lot of noise. Sprucing it up with subtext (what he really means is "I love you") or conveniently collapsing the antagonism into sentiment is a comedic exploration of absolutely nothing.
"Trophy Wife" is another, and much better, show based on real-life experience. It's from co-creator Sarah Haskins (here working with Emily Halpern), who at a young age married a much older man with children.
The title clearly wins this year's "Cougar Town" award, with the creators attempting to diffuse its sexist connotations by arguing that it is "ironic." Still, it's difficult to know what to feel about a woman who makes a show about herself and calls it "Trophy Wife," even "ironically." Admiration? Disgust? Envy?
Certainly, most women would like to have a "loosely based" version of ourselves played by the lovely, long-limbed and comedically gifted Malin Akerman. Single and lovin' it, her party-girl Kate falls onto, and then for, Bradley Whitford's Pete. A year later, she's married, stepmomming and dancing a complicated minuet with Pete's two previous wives.
There's the grimly efficient doctor Diane (Marcia Gay Harden) and the spacey, granola-cruncher Jackie (Michaela Watkins), neither of whom seems to have remarried. This makes Pete the midlife lion anchoring a pride of mutually wary females who have to learn to live together. Honestly, didn't we just do this on "Big Love"?
In many ways, "Trophy Wife" passes the new comedy test with flying colors. Grounded in parental reality, it's funny and promises to be funnier. The characters, though presented in very broad strokes, have lots of room for shading.
The sight of Whitford back in a full-time role evokes a near physical sense of well-being, and Harden is always a joy — even with Kate's undeniable charms, I found myself hoping that the trajectory of the series would reunite Pete and Diane. Probably not the effect Haskins and Halpern were going for.
But then it's hard to tell what "Trophy Wife" is about, especially if the title is "ironic." Is it Kate's journey to adulthood and a clever overturning of stereotypes? (I'm in.) A look at the diverse village of a modern family? (Ditto.)
A tale of improbable but true love conquering all? (Yawn.) Here's what I hope it's not about: women doing all the narrative and emotional heavy lifting while the man looks on, by turns exasperated and admiring, as his "wives" work it out. (Burn it to the ground.)
"Lucky 7" raises none of these worrisome questions, or any questions at all save the baffled "Why?"