NBC hasn’t had much luck getting sitcoms off the ground over the last few years, but it’s looking to turn things around with the upcoming comedy One Big Happy. Set to premiere on Tuesday, the show features a great cast, including Happy Ending vet Elisa Cuthbert and 2 Broke Girls’ Nick Zano, and is co-executive produced by talk show host Ellen DeGeneres. But despite the star-studded team and the network’s high hopes for the project, the series already seems to be falling flat with critics.
Loosely based on the life of writer and showrunner Liz Feldman (2 Broke Girls), the show stars Cuthbert as Lizzy, a single lesbian who has decided to start a non-traditional family with her straight male best friend, Luke (Zano). But just as Lizzy finds out she’s pregnant, Nick meets the love of his life, a British girl named Prudence (played by Kelly Brook). Making things even more complicated? After realizing that Prudence is due to go back to England in a matter of days, Nick decides to marry her so that she doesn’t have leave — putting control-freak Lizzy in an awkward third-wheel position and making her unsure of whether she can still on count on Luke’s time and commitment.
With its unconventional family premise, the show has been highly touted as a forward-thinking and edgier entry into mainstream sitcoms. But though the series may tackle a contemporary definition of parenting, it seems One Big Happy’s execution of the plot line is as old-fashioned and formulaic as ever.
Though its concept may be modern, reviewers have already pointed out the show’s tendency toward run-of-the-mill gags. All of the unfunny jokes you’d expect from an NBC sitcom are there. “There’s the one where Lizzy cleans out her ex-girlfriend’s stuff from the hallway closet. (Cue several ‘coming out of the closet’ jibes.) There’s the one where Luke tries to impress daredevil Prudence by going wingsuit jumping, with comically injurious results,” The Hollywood Reporter lists.
It’s this predictability that prevents the show from being the much-needed, fresh comedy that it could be and that the network needs. One Big Happy is “pitched so broadly that its politics take a back seat to pratfalls and rim shots,” Variety describes, later adding that all of the contemporary elements are filtered “through a musty sitcom template that predates Ellen coming out of the closet.”
The comedy’s saving grace is its talented cast. Cuthbert, Zano, and Brook have each earned high praise for their chemistry, which helps give new energy to what THR calls “the most garden-variety material.” As The Wall Street Journal puts it, “Together, they have the timing and physicality to make even things you saw coming … seem delightful.”
The great ensemble cast may be enough to draw audience interest, although whether it’ll help in keeping the show around long-term remains to be seen. Despite the actors’ best efforts, though, it sounds like One Big Happy won’t be the project to put broadcast sitcoms back on the map — or give viewers the exceptionally fresh and funny comedy they’ve been looking for.
One Big Happy airs Tuesdays at 9:30 p.m. Eastern on NBC.