When the premise is “lesbian best friend is having her roommate’s baby, and the roommate gets married after a couple of days of a whirlwind romance to a sexy Brit who would otherwise get deported”, then you don’t expect “realistic” to happen too often. Still, on a scale from Bob Newhart to Three’s Company, in today’s TV world, you’d expect closer to Bob Newhart than Jack Tripper.
Starring Elisha Cuthbert as Liz, the lesbian OCD pregnant roommate; Nick Zano as Luke, the hunky bowling alley owner, best friend, roommate, and father of Liz’s baby; and Kelly Brook as Prudence, the bon-vivant, unofficial nudest, potential enema expert, and green card marriage wife of Luke; One Big Happy can, in fact, best be compared to Three’s Company, in that the whole premise is pretty wacky, and the comedy is pretty shallow.
The show is produced by Ellen Degeneres, and the show runner is Ellen Show writer Liz Feldman. It seems pretty clear that the intent of the show is to provide a platform for a lesbian character in a sitcom, and one assumes that the Liz on the show is based, at least loosely, on Feldman.
The characters are reasonably charming and competently delivered, but the writing is… flat and obvious. Witness one of the big jokes of the pilot: Prudence, after having spent the night at Liz and Luke’s place, wanders around naked in their house. There is some interesting awkward potential since Liz likes women, and Prudence is, let’s face it, stacked. But somehow it seems like the obvious jokes, like poking at Liz’s OCD with “Hey, that’s a vagina on the stool” and, after a hello hug from Prudence, “Hey, that’s a vagina on my leg” just really fall flat. There must be more to be done with this, but it just misses.
As for the romance between Luke and Prudence, it seems as though a pretty woman knowing about Star Wars is sufficient to not only fall in love, but get married. Ok, yeah, maybe there’s something to that. But in the show, it doesn’t feel earned, and how could it when the pilot is trying to do so much? There’s no doubt that this series suffers from “pilotitis,” the affliction where a pilot episode has to squeeze a lot of exposition into 22 minutes just so that the show makes sense.
Then what about the second episode?
Well, the unbelievability continues. The premise isn’t bad: Luke and Liz both have issues from their past that haunt them. Liz still has a closet full of her ex-girlfriend Erica’s belongings. Luke has a fear of marionettes, and Prudence finds hers as she is going through her things that have just been shipped from England, but Luke can’t bring himself to tell her.
However, the execution, once again, is lackluster. The dialog is stilted, despite valiant efforts by the cast. Liz has the best arc of the three main characters; she has to deal with trying to give Erica (played by Brooke Lyons) her things back. But the whole process is stilted and obvious and unrealistic. Granted, this is a three camera sitcom, so some amount of unnatural presentation is to be expected. Yet all of the plot is heavy handed, like an episode of Saved by the Bell.
Other characters in the series include Liz’s sister Leisha (Rebecca Corry), her husband Roy (Chris Williams), and the bowling alley employee Marcus (Brandon Mychal Smith). Interestingly, we never learn anyone’s last name.
What’s most disappointing about this show is that it misses its potential. Yes, it’s a ridiculous premise, but so was 2 Broke Girls (which Nick Zano was also in), and that show is charming and witty, even from the get go. In fact, the formula isn’t that different: a ridiculous premise, a new woman comes into someone’s life and moves into her home, banter ensues. Somehow, though, 2 Broke Girls manages to be real and relatable, while One Big Happy seems forced and wooden.
One other thing: for a show that most certainly prides itself on bringing something new and inclusive to TV, the way the Prudence character is handled is very exploitive. She is the stereotypical busty bimbo, with a dash of enjoying sci-fi thrown in to make her seem otherwise. Her character is the least dimensional of the three main characters, and her dialog sticks out even more as flat in a very flat overall show.
It’s a shame, because who doesn’t want to see the hijinks of a lesbian, her best male friend who’s the father of her baby, and his green card wife?
Me, I guess.
One Big Happy
4 out of 10 marionettes
some good jokes, but otherwise flat.
Eliot has been orbiting show business for over 20 years as an improv comedian, video director, and general guy you might barely recognize. Currently best known for his work on the comedy podcast Never Not Funny: The Jimmy Pardo Podcast. He wrote previously for MacEdition.com, and is working on a collection of short sci-fi and weird tales that will probably be published someday. He is also one of three principals in Modest Games.