Party girl plus divorced older man times two ex-wives divided by three manipulative kids equals ... this uninspired situation comedy. Bradley Whitford (“The West Wing,” “The Good Guys”) is Pete, a lawyer who meets Kate (Malin Akerman) in a karaoke bar when she literally falls into his lap. Sparks fly. Fast forward a year and Kate is serving burnt breakfast to her new stepchildren, trying to win their acceptance and affection. Akerman is funny, particularly in a scene where she saves her stepdaughter Hilary (Bailee Madison) from getting into trouble with her no-nonsense mother Diane (ex-wife No. 1), played by Marcia Gay Harden. But her talent for physical comedy is not enough to save her character from the fish-out-of-water cliché she’s trapped in.
Kate is finding it hard to fit into her new life of not-so domestic bliss, but she really, really wants to make it work. We know this thanks to some handy hints from Situation Comedy 101. Clue No. 1: She can’t cook. (See Kate charmingly flail around in a messy kitchen as she cooks breakfast.) Clue No. 2: She is intimidated by the stern ex-wife. (See Kate babble nonsense and bump into things when the two are together/) Clue No. 3: She gets into silly situations to save her step-kids (whose attitudes toward her move from outwardly hostile to not really interested) from misadventures.
Pete’s first wife, Diane, is an intense doctor who is the opposite to his free-spirited second wife, Jackie (Michaela Watkins), a woman who refuses to tell their son Bert (Albert Tsai) that his hamster died for fear of damaging him emotionally. Marcia Gay Harden gives Diane an amusing hard edge but I hope they give this Oscar winning actress more to do. Watkins nails Jackie’s flightiness but again, it’s all so expected that it’s hard to really appreciate the contribution these talented actors are making.
Meanwhile, Whitford’s Pete is a guy who is stuck somewhere between exasperated and bemused, with a side of sarcasm. Pete is not unlikeable but it feels like he only enters a scene to deliver a one-liner (or two) before passing the comedy football to the next actor. As someone who was excited to see Whitford back on a TV comedy after the misfire that was “The Good Guys,” I feel like I should give Pete some time to develop. Here’s hoping he becomes more interesting as the series progresses. The joke he plays on ex-wife number two at the end of the first episode is a good start.
“Trophy Wife” is meant to celebrate the idea of a non-traditional, imperfect family (and all the laughs that apparently come along with it) but with lots of variations on this theme around, it needs to stand out from the pack. Despite the inclusion of skilled actors, it doesn’t. So Kate and company need to step it up. There’s already a funny trophy wife over on “Modern Family.”
Page 2 of 2 - “Trophy Wife” is on Tuesdays at 9:30 p.m. EDT on ABC.
Melissa Crawley is the author of “Mr. Sorkin Goes to Washington: Shaping the President on Television’s ‘The West Wing.’” She has a PhD in media studies and is a member of the Television Critics Association. To comment on Stay Tuned, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter at @MelissaCrawley.