There are many things to like about ABC’s Trophy Wife, which premiered last night. And by “many,” I mostly mean the participation of Sarah Haskins, former Current TV skewerer of all things lady. (I also mean the participation of Bradley Whitford, but we can set that aside for a moment.) Watching the pilot, which was moderately funny and centered around introducing us to Malin Akerman’s prima-facie charming Kate, I found myself worrying, though. The show has sliced itself a fairly difficult task: how to lampoon a situation that still touches a lot of cultural buttons? People have built up a lot of (legitimate or not) anger and resentment over the years about the younger-wife thing. Willa Paskin, at Slate, feels that Trophy Wife manages to toe that line properly. But I have my doubts. Here are some of them, phrased as questions to Haskins herself in a perhaps-creepy-but-I-hope-ultimately-approachable frame that will lead to some answers.
1. Sarah, what’s up with the wife-stereotypes on this show?
I like a ball buster as much as the next person, and I also think Marcia Gay Harden is tops. But even so, her stylized sitcom demeanor struck me as a little too heavy-handed on the “bossy-first-wife” score. And that’s not even to get to the Michaela Watkins character, who is some kind of spacey New Age goof still mooning over Pete. For unknown reasons. I can see you’re attempting to bust a stereotype with Kate — making her a party girl with scruples enough to prevent Pete’s teenage daughter from drinking vodka out of a Poland Spring bottle — but…
2. What makes Kate love Pete?
Whitford, as I alluded to above, is a major charmer, yes. But I feel like there needs to be more understanding of what’s going on in the Kate-Pete romance to get me hooked. Is this just a charm thing? Is there a slight-but-it’s-complicated daddy issue involved? Does Kate think this will give her the security she craved? I realize none of these questions will reveal to us the entire secret of the relationship, but I felt like I wanted more of a sense from the get-go of why I was supposed to root for Kate in the position of “trophy wife.” Because as it stands… there’s no real reason to.
3. How is Kate’s trajectory on this show going to differ from, say, that Kate Hudson movie or a Republican campaign ad?
One of the things Paskin praised about Trophy Wife — not entirely incorrectly — is that it puts a new twist on female-centric comedies like The Mindy Project, Girls, and New Girl by having Kate be somewhat immature but without the space, anymore, to indulge her naïveté: “She’s got to do it and fast, and this process, not Kate’s marriage, is the fount of Trophy Wife’s humor: the topsy-turvy way that Kate learns to identify with the grown-ups and not the kids.” But the truth is, the party-girl-turned-responsible-adult-by-family character has also been done before. And though I’d grant that it hasn’t been done particularly well — except by Party of Five, where it was Matthew Fox who needed the taming — I guess I just think of it as pretty conservative, as women-centric comedies go. Women learn that family is the font of true meaning, find selves in wifehood, children, and the sacrifice of all they hold dear? She doesn’t appear to have, you know, a job?
I want to believe, Sarah Haskins, I want to believe. I know someone as smart as you has to be fighting the good fight. I just need a little sign that Trophy Wife will go above and beyond the expected. I know that’s what you want it to do!