[In case you've Forgotten, and as I will continue to mention each and every one of these posts that I do: This is *not* a review. Pilots change. Sometimes a lot. Often for the better. Sometimes for the worse. But they change. Actual reviews will be coming in September and perhaps October (and maybe midseason in some cases). This is, however, a brief gut reaction to not-for-air pilots. I know some people will be all "These are reviews." If you've read me, you've read my reviews and you know this isn't what they look like.]
Show:"Welcome to the Family" (NBC)
Airs: Thursdays at 8:30 p.m.
The Pitch: "She's a blonde ditz! He's a Latino intellectual! How will their families POSSIBLY get along? Welcome to the most progressive network sitcom of 1970!"
Quick Response: Somewhere between the release of "Guess Whose Coming To Dinner?" in 1967 and the premiere of "All in the Family" in 1971, you could have programmed a show identical to "Welcome to the Family" and been celebrated for your paradigm-shifting view of race relations and blended families in America. Your humor would have been so darned edgy that half of the critics in America probably would have hated you and you'd definitely have been discussed by President Nixon as a subversive countercultural force. Of course, it's not 1970 and you're going to have to be pretty sheltered to look at "Welcome to the Family" as especially progressive or edgy. Probably that's OK, though, because I don't sense that creator Mike Sikowitz has "All in the Family" aspirations and where there actually might have been room for interesting cultural exploration, he's satisfied with warm and fuzzy blandness. And in that warm and fuzzy blandness, you can't be offended by "Welcome to the Family," either for the social statements it makes -- "When did this become about me having issues with Latinos? I have an issue with THAT Latino," a character says, making the show's clear proclamation of ideological indifference -- or for the social statements it chooses not to make. The characters are all blurry and non-specific, tip-toing right to the edge of caricature and then scurrying away without becoming especially defined. That shifts the responsibility for characterization away from the writers and onto stars Mike O'Malley, Mary McCormack, Ricardo Chavira and Justina Machado, who by sheer force of ingrained personality manage to make "Welcome to the Family" more amiable than it has any right to be. That's an elevation from "not at all" to "very slightly," but it's a start. O'Malley and McCormack have an entirely relaxed and natural chemistry that steers a few soft punchlines into laughs. Chavira and Machado have the side of the narrative that strays in the direction of stereotype, so you can see them working hard to make a little bit more of what they've been given, which sometimes veers into loudness. The Romeo & Juliet-style -- minute the tragedy, we assume -- leads are Joseph Haro and Ella Rae Peck and... let's just say they're not the focus of the pilot, so there's little opportunity for any real rapport to develop. "Welcome to the Family" is definitely slightly better than "Sean Saves the World" in the generic-and-voiceless filling of the network's Thursday Comedy Sandwich between the terrific "Parks and Rec" and the intriguing "Michael J. Fox Show."
Desire To Watch Again: Whatever desire I have to watch this one again comes mostly from my sense that Mike O'Malley is a smart, talented and funny guy who deserves a certain amount of support and my generalized respect for some of the remainder of the cast. I just don't see much upside here, because I don't see much aspiration. Even "Sean Saves the World" has more upside, albeit an upside that will only be realized if it becomes "Thomas Lennon & Echo Kellum Save the World." Because "Welcome to the Family" was painless and because it has a great lead-in, I'll give it one or two more episodes.
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All of my 2012 Take Me To The Pilots Entries
All of my 2011 Take Me To The Pilots Entries
All of my 2010 Take Me To The Pilots Entries