Executive producer Ellen DeGeneres and her fellow creators of “One Big Happy” have clearly realized that non-traditional families on TV shows are proof of being socially conscious. Unfortunately for their audience, they seem determined to prove how with the times they are in the most grating and gratuitous ways possible. Even the title lends itself too easily to criticism — the show is nothing more than One Big Flop.
“One Big Happy”
Tuesdays at 9:30 p.m.
The pilot opens with Lizzy (Elisha Cuthbert, “The Girl Next Door”) buying prenatal vitamins in a drugstore, accompanied by her straight best friend and roommate Luke (Nick Zano, “What I Like About You”). The two are planning on raising a child together and are disappointed when they find out that their latest try to get pregnant failed. Later, Luke meets a flirty and fun Manic Pixie Dream Girl, Prudence (Kelly Brook, “Piranha 3D”), who encourages him to hop over the bar, fix himself a drink like she has done and live life to the fullest. She likes science fiction and walking around the apartment naked for no reason. Predictably, Luke has never met a woman like her before and is devastated when he finds out the beautiful Brit is about to be deported. Lizzy can’t wait to see Prudence go — after several quips about Lizzy not being a “very good lesbian” because she prefers not to hug Prudence in the nude, it is abundantly clear the two don’t get along.
Then, Luke and Prudence get married, Lizzy tells them she’s pregnant and Luke is the father and Prudence decides that it is too much for her and runs to the airport. Lizzy has a change of heart, follows her there and gets down on one knee to “get the girl” for her straight best friend — and thus ends the episode in true sitcom fashion.
“One Big Happy” is full of strained one-liners about lesbians, stereotypes about straight guys and more off-color boob jokes than the 2013 Oscars. Brook does the best she can with the inherently sexist, one-dimensional character she has been given, which incorporates a lot of hair flipping, forced smiles and gratuitous prancing around with pixelated body parts. Zano looks confused as to whether he should be emphasizing the dude-bro or ready-for-parenthood side of his personality, although it doesn’t really matter as the one is as unbelievable as the other. Cuthbert seems to be perpetually looking around for a live studio audience to appreciate her lines, but her hopeful gaze is met only with the hollow emptiness of canned laughter. The few other characters in the show are there only to set up jokes so that these three can triumphantly deliver their punchlines.
There are a few lines that suggest the writers are hesitantly trying to steer the show in a better direction, less focused on serious plot in favor of pointing out patterns in movies and shows that incorporate so many of the same banal plot drivers. For example, when Lizzy says slowly to Luke’s drunkenly slumped form on the couch, “Maybe you shouldn’t let her get on that plane,” and, when he doesn’t understand her, exclaims, “Oh my God, have you never seen any movie ever?”
If the writers continue poking fun at themselves and give up pretending this is anything other than a low-budget sitcom, they might arrive at something worth watching. But the main takeaway from the show for people who know anything about the executive producer is a general feeling of disappointment. “One Big Happy” is the first sitcom to feature a lesbian lead since Ellen DeGeneres’s “Ellen,” and it’s missing, above all, her wit and her spark. Come on, Ellen. We know you can do better.