September 21, 2015

SHOWBUZZDAILY Series Premiere Review: “Life In Pieces”


LIFE IN PIECES:  Monday 8:30PM on CBS – Change the Channel

Two seasons ago, CBS gave us The Millers, which against all odds managed to take the talents of Will Arnett, Beau Bridges, Margo Martindale, J.B. Smoove and Jayma Mays (and that’s not even counting guest stars) and emerge with a show that was unfunny and ultimately unwatchable.  With LIFE IN PIECES, they’re perilously close to repeating the feat.

The show, created by Justin Adler, is seeking to tell a multi-generational family story in the mode of Modern Family, and like that show, it has a gimmick–but a bad one.  (The pilot is also directed by Jason Winer, who was behind the camera for Modern Family‘s pilot.)  The top-notch cast includes James Brolin and Dianne Wiest as John and Joan, patriarch and matriarch of the Short clan, with their children and those children’s mates played by Colin Hanks and Zoe-Lister Jones (Greg and Jen), Betsy Brandt and Dan Bakkedahl (Heather and Tim), and Thomas Sadoski and Angelique Cabral (Matt and Colleen).

Where Modern Family has its direct-to-camera “interview” sequences, Life In Pieces breaks down its episode into a separate, self-contained mini-segment for each of the couples rather than intercutting the stories, thus effectively reducing the episode to individual slices each under 6 minutes long, with commercials in between (although all the characters appear in the pilot’s final sequence).  This may be CBS’s idea of appealing to the YouTube generation, but it plays as weakly sketch-like, underscoring just how thin each storyline is.  Each sequence in the pilot (written by Adler, who’s worked on comedies like Better Off Ted and Less Than Perfect, but hasn’t created a series before) only has time to go from A to B, and B is a predictable place.  We get a bit about the effect of childbirth on a new mother’s lady parts, one about bringing a teen to college and dad insisting on giving his son “the talk,”, and one about a fresh couple’s difficulties in finding a place to have sex.  The final and silliest sequence is a “funeral” for Brolin’s character, which he’s organized to hear all the nice things people will say about him.

There’s nothing witty or insightful about the writing, and when it turns serious in the last segment, as Brolin’s character lectures his family about the importance of every little moment, it switches quickly to pomposity.  We know without doubt that these actors are capable of much more, but they can only perform the material they’re given.

Life In Pieces has something else in common with The Millers:  the CBS grand prize of having The Big Bang Theory as its lead-in, which guarantees, at least in the early going, that plenty of people will be watching.  But that crowd knows how to use a remote control, and The Millers steadily lost high percentages of its lead-in, so that eventually the network cut its losses and let the show go.  Life In Pieces certainly has the pieces necessary to produce a quality series, but snipping lackluster comedy into small segments just results in smaller pieces of lackluster comedy.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."