Review: Parenthood on Display in ‘Life in Pieces’

CBS’s new sitcom Life in Pieces is being accused already of being a Modern Family knock-off. And maybe it is on the lowest of levels – a multi-generational family loves, laughs, and waxes philosophically about life itself. Having a Yet, there’s something more there, hidden beneath all the crude sex jokes and manufactured touching family moments that makes me wonder if the show couldn’t aspire to something greater given time.

Dianne Wiest (Hannah and Her SistersParenthood) and James Brolin (Hotel) star as John and Joan Short, the parents of this modern family. He is aging in a wacky, sitcom-y manner rather than go the much more gruff path of Ed O’Neill’s Jay Pritchett in Modern Family. The worst joke of the pilot involves his funeral-inspired birthday party which goes down poorly after multiple vignettes of sex jokes. Brolin’s brief performance in the pilot makes me long for the subtle comic timing of O’Neill, but Wiest, given very little to do here until the end, brings the matronly warmth she employed brilliantly in the film version of Parenthood. As with most things she’s in, Wiest is easily the best thing about the show, making her an potential candidate for next year’s Emmys. That is, if the writers give her enough to do…

The rest of the family, thus far, is more of a mixed bag:

  • Their son, Matt (Thomas Sadoski), is dating Colleen (Angelique Cabral) but they can’t find a place to have sex. He apparently lives with his parents. She lives with her ex-fiancee (Jordan Peele) and can’t afford her own place. Wackiness ensues. This is my least favorite couple thus far, which is slightly unfair given they’re saddled with standard sitcom cliches galore.
  • Their other son, Greg (Colin Hanks), and his wife, Jen (Zoe Lister-Jones), are having their first baby. This is the section that I found offered significant potential given Hanks’s genetic affability and the admittedly well-trodden comic territory of parenthood.
  • Their other, other son, Tim (Dan Bakkedahl), and wife Heather (Betsy Brandt) are far advanced in their child raising. Their struggles include taking their oldest son to look at colleges, dealing with their middle daughter’s period, and telling their youngest daughter the dark truth about Santa. Somehow, through all of this, Heather wants another child, but Tim infers she’s too old for that. I’m somewhere in the middle on these two. I have a hard time with Betsy Brandt as a comic actress, honestly. I’m always aware that she’s TRYING REALLY HARD TO BE WACKY. I never liked her on Breaking Bad either. No offense.

So, the pilot of Life in Pieces is just that, a pilot that leaps dramatically to introduce the audience to all characters within the confines of a 25-minute time slot. Pilots are never great. They are nurtured and grow to become great, and, assuming the writers give the characters the appropriate room to breathe, the show could become very good, if not great. That all depends on, in my opinion, how much screen time they give Diane Wiest, the key to the family and its beating heart. The show may have genetic ties to Modern Family, but its emotional core is more akin to Parenthood, less dramatic than the series and more broadly comic like the film. And, if the writers of Life in Pieces are able to pull off that trick, then this show may prove a pleasant new destination in Fall television.

Life in Pieces airs Monday nights on CBS at 8:30pm ET. Right after The Big Bang Theory. Because that makes no sense at all.

Published by Clarence Moye

Clarence firmly believes there is no such thing as too much TV or film in one's life. He welcomes comments, criticisms, and condemnations on Twitter or on the web site. Just don't expect him to like you for it.