CBS’s new comedy series Life in Pieces, which premieres this week, isn’t bad. It features quick and strong set-ups and punchlines to keep the humor flowing — more jokes land in this half-hour than most comedy pilots out there. It is not a show for everyone — nothing is a show for everyone — but it’s one of those series where, even if it’s not your bag of humor, it’s enjoyable and sharp enough to be a comedy that many viewers (and, I suspect, many regular CBS viewers) will love. But in today’s crowded TV landscape, that may not be enough.
Life in Pieces is placing its bets on a slightly unique concept: each episode portrays four short stories — about five-minute long vignettes — that get you in and out of the story like that, in the snap of a finger, setting up something comical and/or emotional. (In sitcom rules: Starting off funny, then finding a way to seamlessly sneak in that gooey emotional center.) It will, without a doubt, be compared to Modern Family. At the risk of following everyone’s lead: It is, very much, like Modern Family. And, well, we don’t really need another Modern Family. One is more than enough.
In the pilot episode, the short stories quickly introduce us to our characters. Matt (Thomas Sadoski) and Colleen (Angelique Cabral) are a couple trying to find a place to have sex — but she still lives with her sobbing ex-husband (Jordan Peele), while he still lives with his overbearing parents (there are only overbearing parents on sitcoms like this). They continue their search, and hilarity ensues. We meet new parents Greg (Colin Hanks!) and Jen (Zoe Lister-Jones) as Jen is in mid-labor, and their storyline largely concerns the aftermath: her doctor warns her, sternly, not to look at her vagina for a few weeks. She does, and hilarity ensues. Heather (Betsy Brandt) and Tim (Dan Bakkedahl) take their children to visit colleges and Tim overshares about his young sex life, or lack thereof; couch cushions are involved, and hilarity sort of ensues. The fourth story is at a funeral-themed birthday party for a family’s patriarch, the moment in which we learn that these three adults — Matt, Greg, Heather — are siblings, the children of Joan (Dianne Wiest) and John (James Brolin).
Pictured left to right: Niall Cunningham as Tyler, Betsy Brandt as Heather, Giselle Eisenberg as Sophia, Dan Bakkedahl as Tim and Holly Barrett as Samantha. Photo: Eddy Chen/CBS ©2015 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved
Despite its vignette-form, Life in Pieces is a pretty classic sitcom. It features a big family — children, parents, grandparents — who tease, insult, annoy, and love each other. It involves three adults (not counting the parents) at different points in relationships — the older married couple, the younger “just had a baby” couple, the just-starting-out-a-relationship couple — so they can all give each other advice and learn from each others’ mistakes. It’s about trials and tribulations, the awkwardness of familial interactions, the weirdness of bringing in someone new to an established family dynamic, and, well, white people being white. (It is a CBS sitcom, after all.)
Apart from its slight change in format from the norm, there is nothing that sets Life in Pieces apart from the majority of lackluster and cheap family sitcoms that populate the television landscape, past or present. It is so reminiscent of Modern Family that it already feels stale. It’s a shame because the cast is superb, but the writing never really lets them prove this. Still, it’s a series that will surely work for CBS — it doesn’t exactly fill the void of How I Met Your Mother but it’s a somewhat adequate replacement — and it’s entirely possible that it will find its groove somewhere down the line, but I’m fine with ignoring it until that happens.
Life in Pieces premieres Monday, September 21 at 8:30 PM.