I love this time of year, as the new seasons of both returning and debuting American shows come flooding on to our screens. These days it’s even better, as it is now not uncommon for new episodes to air in the UK just days after their first transmission in the US. Two sitcoms have found their way onto my Sky+ box this week – one brand new, the other a firm favourite after just one season. Let’s start with a look at the new …
Mike & Molly (Monday 9.30pm, Comedy Central)
From the creators of Two and a Half Men comes Mike & Molly, a sitcom about a couple, Mike Biggs (Billy Gardell, who also played an overweight cop in My Name is Earl) and Molly Flynn (Melissa McCarthy, best known for Gilmore Girls), who meet at an Overeaters Anonymous meeting and start dating.
The show also contains several supporting cast staples, from Mike’s fast-talking, wise-cracking partner Carl (Reno Wilson), Molly’s pot-smoking sister Victoria (Katy Mixon) and insensitive mother Joyce (Swoosie Kurtz from Pushing Daisies) and Samuel (Nyambi Nyambi), a Senegalese waiter at Mike and Carl’s favourite restaurant.
The pilot episode follows us through Mike and Molly’s initial meetings, with Mike finally plucking up the courage to ask Molly on a first date. Despite its two non-traditional leads, it is pretty standard sitcom fare, with a laughter track which is just a bit too intrusive. But wrapped up within all the standard fat jokes and stock sitcom clichés there is a beating heart, as Mike tells Molly’s school class the story of why he became a policeman and how he misheard his father’s nickname for his beat, which he called “Biggs’ Mile”, as an instruction to give him a big smile. It’s a moment which is both funny and genuinely touching, and although I am concerned about the writers’ ability to stretch the fat-bloke-dates-fat-girl premise much beyond a single season, the potential of this series is there to see in terms of examining in a gentle way some of the highs and lows of being overweight in a body-conscious world. Gardell and McCarthy are terrific, and are pitch-perfect in their roles.
There is nothing ground-breakingly innovative about Mike & Molly, but it could turn out to be one of those slow growers that catches everyone by surprise. Watch this space.
1.01 Pilot: 3.5/5
Modern Family (Thursday 8pm, Sky 1)
After a sparkling first season which garnered the show three Primetime Emmys, I have been crossing my fingers that Modern Family, the best new comedy I have seen on TV since the debut of 30 Rock, would be able to avoid the dreaded sophomore jinx. On the basis of Thursday’s opening double bill, it looks like my fears are unfounded.
The show centres on three strands of a modern, non-traditional family: there is family patriarch Jay Pritchett (Ed O’Neill), with his new, younger wife Gloria (Sofia Vergara) and her teenage son Manny (Rico Rodriguez II); daughter Claire (Julie Bowen), her husband Phil Dunphy (Ty Burrell) and their three kids, and gay son Mitchell (Jesse Tyler Ferguson), his partner Cameron (Eric Stonestreet) and their adopted Vietnamese daughter Lily. Shot in a mockumentary style without a laughter track, and with characters regularly doing narrative inserts to camera, a typical Modern Family follows one of two structures: a two or three-plot tale where the individual elements do not cross, or a story which starts with apparently disparate threads but eventually brings everyone together bonded by a common theme or event.
The opening episode The Old Wagon adopts the former style, as the Dunphys set out to sell an old station wagon full of memories, Gloria gets all possessive over Manny’s relationship with a girl and Jay helps Mitchell and Cameron build a princess castle. Second episode The Kiss is of the latter type, as the Dunphys’ younger daughter Alex stumbles towards her first kiss, both Mitchell and Jay confront their aversions to public displays of affection, and it is revealed that Claire’s own romantic past is hardly whiter than white as the clan come together for a dinner to celebrate Gloria’s dead grandmother.
Both episodes fizz with pathos, genuine laughs and clever little twists, with characters who are distinct and recognisable archetypes – the goofy dad, the traditional patriarch, the fiery Colombian, the teenager wise beyond his years, the flamboyant gay – but remain entirely sympathetic and believable. And their (mis)adventures, though frequently farcical, always have a genuine ring of truth about them. We all know men who don’t realise how much of a menace they are when attempting DIY (Mitchell), who are desperate to impress their stern, disapproving father-in-laws (Phil) or who have difficulty showing their emotions (Jay) – or mothers who want to be the perfect role model (Claire) or who are desperate for their sons not to grow up and drift away from them (Gloria). The characters may be fictional constructs, but we can empathise with all of them because each is fully-formed and real in their own right, a major achievement in a half-hour sitcom with such a large ensemble cast.
Always feel-good without being cloying, I really cannot recommend Modern Family highly enough. In the pantheon of modern American sitcoms, it sits right up there with the first three seasons of Friends or the middle years of Cheers as an exemplar of consistently high quality. It really is that good.
2.01 The Old Wagon: 4.5/5
2.02 The Kiss: 4/5
- “Comedian Billy Gardell makes his case for primetime stardom in Mike & Molly” and related posts (punchlinemagazine.com)
- ‘Mike and Molly’ Star Billy Gardell Pays Craig Ferguson for a Shout-Out (VIDEO) (tvsquad.com)
- Melissa McCarthy promises dating and other disasters in romcom ‘Mike & Molly’ (chicagonow.com)
- Mike & Molly, CBS: US TV review (telegraph.co.uk)
- TV’s New Sitcom ‘Mike & Molly’: Full of Fat Jokes (abcnews.go.com)