As the fall season begins to take shape, there will certainly be
some interesting ratings battles between competing shows. For proof
of this, look no further than Tuesday nights at 8:30, where two new
sitcoms debut on rival networks NBC and ABC. “Happy Family,” the
latest from the peacock network goes head-to-head with ABC’s most
recent offering, “I’m With Her.” A ratings win and a spot as a
network mainstay is at stake for both, but only one can truly be
deemed quality programming.

Mira Levitan
John Larroquette and Christine Baranski of “Happy Family” (Courtesy of NBC)

“Happy Family,” chronicling a set of empty-nest parents dealing
with their grown kids’ problems, has likable characters but is hurt
by some completely ridiculous storylines. John Larroquette (“Night
Court”) and Christine Baranski (“Cybill) are the old married couple
dealing with a successful but over-emotional daughter (Melanie
Paxson), an all-American son (Jeff Davis) who’s engaged but having
an affair and a young foolish collegiate (Tyler Francavilla) who
has moved in with the older next-door neighbor (Susan Gibney). It
sounds like a bad soap opera, but it’s written as a bad sitcom
instead.

The laughs may be frequent at first, but as the first three
episodes prove, the stories get a little too far fetched for the
average viewer to appreciate. While Larroquette is a great father
figure, and the show is well cast, it may not have the necessary
quality writing to be considered among the feature programs on the
NBC lineup.

Brooke Shield’s real-life marriage is the backdrop for “I’m With
Her,” which features Patrick Owen (David Sutcliffe) a typical,
everyday grade-school teacher who meets and later dates famous
movie star Alex Young (Teri Polo, “Meet the Parents”). They meet
via the oh-so-romantic dog bite, which is a bizarre way to
introduce your main storyline. Young then spends days wondering if
he’ll call her. As the first episode concludes, Owen quotes
contemporary literature, as any good teacher should, and overcomes
his initial awe-struck feeling to pursue his celebrity crush.

Owen’s crazy, eccentric sidekick (Danny Compton) is a fine
compliment to the straight-shooting teacher, but Young’s little
sister (Rhea Seahorn) does nothing to add to the show’s flavor.
This series doesn’t have much to go on plot-wise other than the
Owen-Young relationship, and that can’t possibly last the whole
year.

Polo’s presence and Sutcliffe’s likeable personality, coupled
with some genuine, albeit forced, emotion and sensibility gives
“I’m With Her” an advantage over “Happy Family,” which has plenty
of stories to play off of, but no clear direction with any of them.
The show is also hindered due to the fact the show’s focus is on
the parents, not the kids, leading to many instances of Larroquette
and Baranski wondering aloud: “Where did we go wrong?” That’s what
the viewers want to know, too.

Considering both shows will soon be going against “Joe
Millionaire 2″ (who would actually fall for that one again?) they
may get swept aside in the ratings. Both shows will probably just
end up being “there” on television and not make much of an impact
one way or another. Faced with only these two shows, however, be
with the smart viewers and choose “I’m With Her.”

Happy Family: Tuesdays at 8:30 p.m. on NBC

I’m With Her: Tuesdays at 8:30 p.m. on ABC

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