October 3, 2013

PREMIERING TONIGHT: THE SKED Pilot Review – CBS’s “The Millers”


Read All Our Fall Pilot Reports here and Midseason Pilot Reports here.

THE MILLERS:  Thursday 8:30PM on CBS – If Nothing Else Is On…

When Bad Shows Happen To Talented People, Chapter 2456:  you wouldn’t think a network comedy would need more to succeed than Greg Garcia (My Name Is Earl, Raising Hope) as its creator, and a cast led by Will Arnett, Beau Bridges, Margo Martindale and J.B. Smoove, but you’d be wrong. THE MILLERS, which CBS is gifting with the best lead-in on television, The Big Bang Theory, feels lazy and second-rate through and through.

The Millers belongs to the apparently inexhaustible comedy subgenre of Aging Parents Mortifying Adult Children, also seen this fall in Dads and Mom.  The set-up is so simple as to be primitive:  moderately successful TV reporter Nathan Miller (Arnett) has been hiding his three-months-old divorce from parents Tom and Carol (Bridges and Martindale), because he knows that they’ll be heartbroken.  When they make a surprise visit, though, and discover the truth, the response isn’t what he expected:  Tom declares that he’s been miserably married for years himself and is done staying together for the sake of the children, and he leaves Carol, who declares herself fine with splitting up.  She moves in with Nathan, while Tom takes up residence with Nathan’s sister and brother-in-law (Jayma Mays and Nelson Franklin).  Soon Dad is screwing up the remote controls and adjusting the level of the beds in the house when he means to change the channel on TV, and Mom is blearily walking through a post-divorce singles party Nathan’s friend and colleague Ray (Smoove) had convinced him to throw, doped-up on sleeping pills and hitting on the eligible men.

There are moments when The Millers recognizably belongs to the universe of Garcia’s better shows (a gag about Tom thinking it’s only his own microwave that doesn’t allow metal could have played in Raising Hope), but the shift to multi-camera comedy, even directed by grandmaster James Burrows, makes the good-natured idiocy of Garcia’s humor feel overly broad and desperate.  The trick with Earl and Hope is that they’re very smart shows about people who aren’t quite so bright, but The Millers is all the way stupid, as though Garcia couldn’t be bothered with putting that extra layer on his comedy this time.  (The pilot is so second-hand that it reuses the Dirty Dancing gag from New Girl‘s pilot.)

With a cast so strong, The Millers can’t be a total loss, and Martindale, in particular, commits wholeheartedly every step of the way to what Garcia gives her, whether it’s a series of fart jokes, trying to eat ice cream with a spatula or that Dirty Dancing number.  Bridges, who’s guest-starred on Garcia’s shows in the past, knows his way around the proper level of thickheadedness, but Arnett is somewhat out of his comfort zone playing what’s meant to be an ordinary guy, adrift without his usual coating of clueless superciliousness.

The Millers isn’t very good, but it’s going to be watched, airing as it is after Big Bang, and with NBC’s equally bad Welcome To the Family as its only comedy competition (the other networks feature the Once Upon A Time spinoff, Vampire Diaries and X Factor, all aiming at different audiences).  So Garcia will have a chance to get things under control and try to find a voice for the show, and despite its unpromising start, given his track record you can’t rule out his chances of pulling it off.  Still, at this point the happiest ending here would be for The Millers to bite the dust fast enough for Margo Martindale to make her way back to The Americans.


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."