SMOTHERED, which was produced for ABC by Warner Bros Television, falls into the category of “not as bad as you’d think.” The concept is Predictable Sitcom 101: a young couple (Kyle Howard and Brooke D’Orsay) whose daughter is about to celebrate her first birthday, is invaded by both groups of in-laws. His (Marcia Gay Harden and Adam Arkin) are pretentious New York Jews (he’s a doctor, she drops French words into every conversation); hers (Julie White and John C. McGinley) are Southern Christians who vacation in Branson and watch Wipeout. They compete with each other for every conceivable advantage with the little girl, from religion to clothing. Do I even have to tell you that by the end of the pilot, both sets of grandparents are moving into town, so that had a series existed, the whole (as the paternal grandparents would say) mishpocheh would all have been living alongside each other?
All of this sounds eminently cringe-worthy, and rightly so. But there was a lot of talent involved here. The script was by Andrew Reich and Ted Cohen, who were senior writers on Friends (although it’s been a tough road since then, with stops at Romantically Challenged and Worst Week). More importantly, there’s not a weak player in the cast: White, Harden, McGinley and Arkin know how to time even the most obvious gag for maximum impact, and despite the broadness of their roles, they keep mugging to a minimum. (Some credit doubtless goes to director Andy Ackerman.) Howard and D’Orsay are straight men to the older experts, but even they manage to be amusing. And Kate Micucci (she was the ukulele-player on Scrubs, and more recently, still with ukulele, she’s recurred as the local daycare center manager on Raising Hope) has a schtick that shouldn’t keep on being funny but somehow is, as D’Orsay’s younger sister who’s cheerful about always being in her sister’s shadow and ignored by literally everyone.
Should Smothered have gotten on the air? The show might never have been less hackneyed than its premise; on the other hand, it’s not as though that cast was going to get any less talented as the show went on. Compared to Last Man Standing, Man Up and Work It, all of which are getting on ABC’s air, it starts to look better than OK. Given its tone and senior cast, it might have found a happier home at CBS, but that network didn’t have any need for second-hand sitcoms this season.
It’s no great loss to American culture that Smothered didn’t make it onto a broadcast schedule; its cast doesn’t suffer for lack of work, and they’ll go on to their next jobs. It was a decent enough effort, though, that, in different circumstances, might have made some audiences laugh.
The Sked’s Verdict: Worth Another Look