Honestly, “Trophy Wife” isn’t a bad show, and maybe we have David Mamet to thank
Last night’s episode, “Lice and Beary White,” which featured a high school production of Hair and lessons about King Solomon, even scored a B at the A.V. Club. One of the commenters even went so far as to say, “I think I’m the happiest I am recently while watching TV if I’m watching this show.” TIME is now calling it “America’s best new family sitcom,” which might be legit, since it has Marcia Gay Harden, Bradley Whitford, Malin Akerman (more of a film person, but on TV now), Michaela Watkins, Bailee Madison (i.e. “that young girl from Adam Sandler’s movies”) and other semi-big names, including Albert Tsai, who basically steals the entire show. (He isn’t a semi-big name, so that last sentence was fairly poorly worded.) Rob Corddry is coming for some future episodes, Nat Faxon was just there, and the show got a full-season order despite less-than-stellar ratings. (It’s averaging about a 1.9 rating and 5.7 million viewers per the first six-seven episodes. The Goldbergs, another underrated sitcom on ABC Tuesdays, is averaging slightly higher than that and just got a full-season order.)
Trophy Wife typically goes up against NCIS: Los Angeles and The Voice; last week, those were two of the top 21 shows on TV. On FOX at that time is The Mindy Project, which doesn’t rack up in ratings all the time but has an excellent lead-in (New Girl) and a well-regarded female star (Mindy Kaling). In sum, it’s not the easiest spot in the world to compete — but Trophy Wife has done admirably. The gold standard of the family-oriented sitcom recently is Modern Family, and you’ll often see references to those two shows together.
I think Harden is terrific as an ice queen, Watkins has come into her own as a ditz, Whitford doesn’t have enough to do considering his TV pedigree, Akerman is OK but scenes of her being indignant about her lack of respect can get old quickly, Tsai is adorable, Madison is annoying but serves her role, the kid who plays Warren is a good foil to Tsai and has some solid moments, and the guest stars (including Natalie Morales, who may have had a bigger role when this thing was conceptualized) are mostly very solid. It doesn’t have the big huggy feeling of Modern Family just yet, but if the writing gets only a little bit sharper, it might be an equal show (not compared to Modern Family’s prime, but compared to where they’re at now). I think it’s definitely better than Back in the Game, ABC’s other sitcom offering, and it’s undeniably better than NBC’s sitcom offerings this fall (although admittedly, The Michael J. Fox Show has some moments).
Even NPR is praising the show, which you wouldn’t necessarily expect given how standard some of the sitcom-ish situations are. The show is partially based on the comedy work of Sarah Haskins, who is herself a stepmom; she previously did the Target: Women show on Current TV.
Emily Halpern is the other main creative force, and the show is EP’ed by the guys behind Bad Teacher (staffers from The Office). Halpern and Haskins have worked together on multiple scripts and projects, including Booksmart (to be produced by Natalie Portman) and some other in-development projects. Interestingly, Halpern got her start on The Unit under David Mamet; I don’t think Mamet and Trophy Wife are typically that easily linked. Halpern was a staff writer on six episodes.
Haskins also has a cool Twitter, including gems like this:
The point of all this? It’s a good friggin’ show. Watch it. You may still miss Happy Endings and you may cringe at the Trophy Wife name, but remember … Cougartown had an awful name, and ’twas also a great show. Go now and watch Trophy Wife. You’ll dig it.