September 24, 2013

PREMIERING TONIGHT: THE SKED Pilot Review – ABC’s “Trophy Wife”


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TROPHY WIFE:  Tuesday 9:30PM on ABC – If Nothing Else is On…

If you like your comedy innocuous, TROPHY WIFE may fit the bill.  The title is ironic:  although Kate (Malin Akerman) is the young, beautiful third wife of Peter (Bradley Whitford), she’s not after his money–he’s a harried attorney who doesn’t seem to be more than comfortably upper-middle class–and he doesn’t have any interest in showing her off.  Nor does Kate spend her days lounging at the pool and shopping.  Instead, she’s studiously, if bumblingly, trying to get along with Peter’s two ex-wives, stony surgeon Diane (Marcia Gay Harden) and flighty New Age airhead Jackie (Michaela Watkins), while doing her best to be some kind of step-parent to Peter’s teen twins with Diane, Nelson (Ryan Lee) and Hillary (Bailee Madison), and his adopted son with Jackie, Bert (Albert Tsai).  Kate’s only support system of her own comes from barhopping BFF Meg (Natalie Morales).

The pilot by Emily Halpern and Sarah Haskins is pleasant and busy but never very insightful or uproarious, coming off very much as a shadow of Modern Family, a show that’s so clearly its inspiration that one wonders why Trophy isn’t airing alongside Family on Wednesdays.  Perhaps the network realized it would suffer by too close a comparison.  (This is the first show Halpern and Haskins have created, so the series will have showrunning help from Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnitsky, whose credits include being senior writer/producers on The Office.)  Trophy Wife has a good grip on sitcom mechanics (the director is Jason Moore), juggling in its first half-hour stories about Kate dealing with the softcore porn Nelson is writing at school (which Diane assumes is inspired by Kate) and shielding Hillary from Diane’s wrath when the girl–at Kate’s unintentional suggestion–sneaks vodka into her water bottle, while Peter and Jackie do what they can to hide from Bert the fact that they accidentally killed his hamsters, and Bert himself spends the day being “watched” by Meg.  There are plenty of gags that give Akerman a chance to do the kind of over-the-top physical comedy (she drinks all the “water,” which means she plays most of the pilot’s second half as drunk out of her mind) that makes people respectfully murmur the name “Lucille Ball.”.

Trophy Wife has a bit of promise because of its wildly overqualified cast, which at the moment is using about ten percent of its collective talents.  The show is at such pains to show Kate as being earnest and well-meaning that so far, she isn’t anything else, and since the character isn’t, in fact, a golddigger, we need to feel much more between her and Peter than the mild rapport the two have in the pilot, if we’re to understand what Kate is doing with him at all.  Harden and Watkins are enormously skilled, but their characters are entirely one-note–and although clearly the joke is that Diane and Jackie are polar opposites, the fact that Peter married both of them and then Kate means that we can’t get any feel for just what kind of guy Peter is meant to be, either.  These are, however, four hugely talented actors, and Akerman is a charming lead, so if Trophy Wife can actually figure out how to harness their abilities and give them something to play, it could become exponentially better–a big “if,” of course.

ABC hasn’t done Trophy Wife any favors with its scheduling.  One can appreciate the surface logic of pairing it with The Goldbergs as a lead-in–two comedies about boisterous families who somehow make it work–but if Goldbergs doesn’t get off to a big start, the whole hour may sink.  Trophy could have fit well with either The Middle or Modern Family, with which it’s more tonally similar.  But the network is apparently all-in on The Goldbergs, so the sitcoms’ fates are intertwined.  Trophy Wife feels like a show that might conceivably rise from its routine start and grow with time–if it gets some.





About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."