Sep 25, 2013

Trophy Wife: “Pilot”

By Josh Oakley


The first time I saw Malin Akerman act was in Zack Snyder’s Watchman adaptation. Not a great introduction, to be fair. Over the years, though, Akerman has wiped away the smudges tied to that performance and has become one of the more dependable comedic actors on TV. She did excellent work in her short time on Suburgatory, and is consistently one of the best parts of Childrens Hospital, a show with an ensemble that makes that an impressive claim. Akerman has proved her timing well at this point. On Trophy Wife, she can add physical comedy to her accomplishments. Nothing she’s doing here is revolutionary, but it’s so very solid that combined with her delivery of lines such as “Two things you should know about me. One, love Costa Rica. Two, hate melanoma”, Akerman may wind up giving one of the better sitcom performances of the season. Luckily, she has stiff competition from within this very show.

Akerman plays Kate, the third wife of Pete (Bradley Whitford, who should never not be on a television show). Michaela Watkins and Marcia Gay Harden play Pete's previous two wives, with three children in total. The premise and basic conceits of characters are fairly elegantly stuffed into the opening of Trophy Wife, so the first episode can actually spend time with the relationships as they will stand for however long the show goes on. Jackie (Watkins) is an airy hippie, which plays nicely against Diane, a character that utilizes Harden’s ability to play deliciously cold. One of the best aspects of the pilot episode is the impression that these characters have run up against each other many times. The sense of shared history between them is fairly deeply felt, at least more so than either’s relationship with Pete, who remains a bit of a blank slate both on his own and in relation to others. Diane’s children are teenage twins played by Super 8’s Ryan Lee, who is one of the better young actors out there at the moment, and Gianna LePera. Jackie and Pete adopted a son together, Bert (Albert Tsai), this show’s less annoying version of Modern Family’s Manny. The last piece of the makeshift family is Kate’s best friend Meg, played by the absolutely wonderful Natalie Morales. Though Morales is given little to do in the pilot, the fact that she gets her own story (alongside Bert) seems to be a promise that she’ll be a major part of the proceedings.

That pairing of Meg and Bert is emblematic of one of the best things about the Trophy Wife pilot. Because this episode isn’t too concerned with premise, it has room to begin the process of delving into these characters and their relationships. It’s clear that Akerman and Harden are going to work beautifully together, perhaps the best lesson the show can learn from this outing. Watkins and Whitford are great together as well, though Pete’s lack of definition (which, as this is a pilot episode, may not be a problem for long) stalls their story a bit. Luckily, Watkins hits every single line she’s given perfectly, transforming what could be a one-note character into a person both sarcastic and a tad foolish. Watkins can say some as simple as “hamster stuff” or “oh, look, it’s another person”, and those words become magic.

Trophy Wife does have its share of issues, such as an overreliance on trite sitcom plots and potential pacing issues (though the later may again be pilot-oriented). The larger problem, which may be unsolvable, is that the show seems to be aiming towards middle ground. It lands there with ease, thanks to the great performances and solid writing, but no effort seems to be made here to create the next great anything. Instead, Trophy Wife looks to be nothing more than a well-made, reliably funny family comedy. This isn’t the worst thing to be, of course, but it’s hard to get all that worked up over. Perhaps the easy tone of the pilot will dissipate in the weeks to come, and something more interesting will emerge. And if not, there are worse things to invest in than a comedy that takes a lot of immensely talented people and gives them a place to shine.

Grade: B

Miscellaneous:
  • “I have forgotten more about erections than you will ever learn.”
  • “’Age ain’t nothing but a number,’ declared Poseidon.”

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