June 29, 2011


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Written by: Mitch Salem
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FAMILY ALBUM was one of the more buzzed-about FOX pilots of this past development season, and although it’s not on the network’s announced schedule, Deadline reports that it’s in contention for midseason and will even shoot a second prototype episode.  So this isn’t so much a postmortem as a look at how the show could improve its way onto the air.  (Let’s leave aside the fact that even as-is, it’s already far more promising than I Hate My Teenage Daughter–reviewed here–which FOX did pick up for Fall.)

For one thing, the gimmick that gives Famiiy Album its title is awkward and should be deemphasized.  In the pilot, written by the team of Joe Port & Joe Wiseman, the concept has the show’s lead couple Marni and Dave (Rachael Harris and Mike O’Malley) explaining a group of online familiy photos to someone; in so doing, they flash back to the story that links the photos.  These interstitial bits are probably meant to be a parallel to the “interviews” that punctuate episodes of Modern Family, but in this case the breaks in action don’t add perspective or offer different angles on the storyline.  They just distract from the flow of the episode.

Of course, for any single camera sitcom about a dysfunctional but loving family, Modern Family is the elephant in the room generally, setting a fearsomely high bar for the genre; Family Album doesn’t have any particular distinctiveness, unlike a show like Raising Hope, and since it dwells in a millieu very much like Modern‘s, it’s hard to avoid unfortunate comparisons.  Album centers on Marni and Dave and their 3 kids, one adopted (that’s Damaris Diaz; the others are Ted Sutherland and Isabella Cramp), and also Marni’s wacky brother Steve (Rob Huebel) and his new girlfriend Holly (Joy Osmanski).  Dave is bumbling but goodhearted, not unlike Ty Burrell’s Phil on Modern, and his son has some complexes, sort of like Phil’s boy.  But where Modern Family broadened its scope to include gay and May-December couples, Family Album just gives us another irresponsible brother-in-law character.  The show badly needs to find some ideas that are less generic.  Also, although it was considered a “get” to have Shawn Levy direct the pilot, since he’s a big-time movie director (Night At the Museum, Cheaper By the Dozen, the Steve Martin Pink Panther remake), he opts for broad physical humor in lieu of character, and that doesn’t help.

What works in Family Album is the cast, especially the leads.  O’Malley finally had his breakthrough role on Glee, and he brings the same Everyman likability to Dave, while Harris (who’s superb in the small indie movie Natural Selection, hopefully coming to theaters soon) has intelligence and snap timing to spare.  It wasn’t a mistake to build a show around the two of them, and it’s still not too late to make this one come together. 

Family Album is already better than several of the other family comedies heading for the air this season (that’s you, Last Man Standing), and its central couple has more charm and chemistry than, say, the leads in Whitney.  If the show can find a voice of its own, it might make its way off the Island of Busted Pilots.

The Sked’s Verdict:  Worth Another Look.

Read more about TV’s new shows at THE SKED PILOT REPORT.

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."