'One Big Happy': TV Review

Eric McCandless
A very modern family is the focus of a very middling sitcom.

Performances triumph over plot in this undistinguished network comedy from executive producer Ellen DeGeneres.

Have you heard the one about the acid-tongued California lesbian, her goofy heterosexual male best friend and the buxom British bombshell who moves in with them? Credit Liz Feldman’s eager-to-please NBC sitcom for not pretending that its oh-so-modern odd-throupling scenario is in any way groundbreaking. This jaunty half-hour comedy is merely out for easy grins and giggles—and though the belly laughs are few, the cast consistently manages to charm.

The series opens with Lizzy (Elisha Cuthbert) and Luke (Nick Zano), best friends since childhood who are now on the cusp of 30, shopping for a pregnancy test. They blather on about their situation to a wide-eyed store clerk: She’s a gay, he’s a straight, and this very platonic couple has decided to have a baby together. (“I’m doing it with a plastic cup,” Luke quips. “And what we do is not dishwasher safe.”) Turns out they’ve been trying for a while to get pregnant, with no success. But at least they have each other.

Then one night at the local watering hole, Luke meets-cute with and literally falls hard for Prudence (Kelly Brook), a comely UK native whose visa is about to expire. Before you can say “green card” (the 1990 Gerard Depardieu-Andie MacDowell romantic comedy does indeed get a shout-out), the two run off to Vegas for an impromptu hitching that permits Prudence to stay in country and move in with Lizzy and Luke. Of course all this happens right as Lizzy’s pregnancy finally takes. Oh sitcom gods, you are a mischievous bunch!

NBC sent out all of the first season’s six episodes, and none of them rises very far above formulaic. 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. There’s the one where a loutish man from Prudence’s past shows up to throw a wrench in the works of her and Luke’s wedded bliss.

Meanwhile, the individual gags are mostly groaners: Luke owns and operates a bowling alley called The Bowl Hole. One of the characters proposes that a gay superhero’s motto should be “Truth, justice and the American heeeeeeyyyyyyyy!” Prudence unboxes her “granny’s cock”…which turns out to be a chintzy rooster sculpture. “I need to find a special place to stick it,” she says obliviously.

It would be easier to dismiss One Big Happy if the performers didn’t have such an easy rapport. Cuthbert, Zano and Brook all play off of each other expertly; sometimes good comic timing is all you need to sell even the most garden-variety material. Both the women are particularly impressive, Brook coming off like an especially bubble-headed cross between Jane Leeves and Jane Russell, while Cuthbert deftly channels the dry, quick-quipping wit of executive producer Ellen DeGeneres. (In look, the former 24 actress even uncannily resembles Ellen’s significant other, Portia de Rossi.)

Read more: Ellen DeGeneres: NBC's 'One Big Happy' Isn't Just About Coming Out

Good as the actors are, though, the show’s run-of-the-mill plotting doesn’t do it — or its long-term prospects — any favors. The season closes with a very of-the-moment narrative twist that promises more slamming-doors farcical shenanigans. And there’s still the matter of that gestating baby. (Diaper-changing gags are all but assured should the network order more installments.) But all told, it seems highly unlikely we’ll ever see the day when this bantering and bickering West Coast trio becomes a quartet.

Twitter: @keithuhlich