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Arnett can't save derivative 'Millers'

CBS

By Emily Bodden, Daily Arts Writer
Published October 7, 2013

Laugh tracks are never a good indicator. Empty and studio-produced, they exude desperation. In this case, the robotic claps heralded an imminent and looming death for CBS’s new family-based sitcom, “The Millers.”

Undisputedly hilarious on “Arrested Development,” Will Arnett doesn’t meet his potential with his newest character. The writing has moments that are mildly amusing, but that’s the strongest praise it deserves. After his portrayal of Gob, his latest endeavor as Jack seems desperate and hasty. Arnett has already paid his dues in the industry and should be landing, and choosing, well developed characters. Having him on their side may be a way for the show to save itself but the writing needs to cater to his comedic style — which they clearly didn’t in this season opener.

When Jayma Mays walks onscreen as Jack’s sister, Debbie, it’s tough to see anything beside “Glee” ’s Emma. While Mays has been in other shows, including “The League,” it’s hard to see her as anyone besides Emma, especially due to her continued choice to portray sickly sweet and mildly confused characters. In this case, her character wasn’t developed at all, and there was no chemistry between her and her TV brother, Arnett.

None of the situations the characters find themselves in feel inspired. The funniest scene finds Jack buckling to his depressed mother’s whim to dance at an apartment party. Newly divorced, which actually helped lead to his parents’ own split, Jack hopes to find a woman to distract him. The punchline is his mother’s staying at his apartment, drugged on sleeping pills. If not for a renowned TV series known as “Friends,” this would have been pretty funny. Instead, Jack’s choreographed dance with his mother is strongly reminiscent of the brother-sister dance. Considering both shows are sitcoms, the similarity is eerie and a bold move for “The Millers.” Sometimes invoking older shows can be rewarding, but this time, it proved a comparison point that “The Millers” cannot hold their ground against.

“The Millers” needs to forge its own path to be a successful sitcom. As seen by shows like “How I Met Your Mother,” “Friends” and “Arrested Development,” creating a strong niche audience is crucial. Sitcoms require cult-like followings of people who will vouch for the show. And to create that following capably demands a fresh take on situations and continued character growth. Audiences have already met dysfunctional families. It’s time for the writers of “The Millers” to make us want to care about what happens to theirs after this pilot.

With only one episode out, “The Millers” may yet see an upswing. Judging by what was seen on the premier, the only way to go is up because if not, cancelation looms in the future.


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