October 11, 2013

THE SKED Pilot + 1 Review: “The Millers”


THE MILLERS:  Thursday 8:30PM on CBS

A lot can happen between the creation of a TV pilot and the production of regular episodes: writer/producers may be hired or fired, audience focus groups weigh in, networks and studios (which may have had their own turnover) give plenty of notes, helpful and otherwise, and critics start to rear their ugly heads. Tone, pace, casting, and even story can change. Here at THE SKED, we’re going to look past the pilots and present reviews of the first regular season episodes as well.

Previously… on THE MILLERS:  When Tom and Carol Miller (Beau Bridges and Margo Martindale) unexpectedly split up after decades of marriage, Carol went to live with son Nathan (Will Arnett), and Tom with daughter Debbie (Jayma Mays) and her husband Adam (Nelson Franklin).  Apart from dealing with the shock of his parents’ break-up and his unwanted houseguest, Nathan, a TV feature reporter, is just getting over his own divorce from anchorwoman Janice (guest star Eliza Coupe), with the help of pal and cameraman Ray (J.B. Smoove).

Episode 2:  The puzzle posed by the pilot of The Millers was how a show bursting with this much talent–in addition to the terrific cast, series creator Greg Garcia of My Name Is Earl and Raising Hope, as well as master multi-camera director James Burrows–could be this mediocre.  That mystery isn’t solved by the second episode, written by Co-Executive Producer Danielle Sanchez-Witzel and directed by the busy Burrows.

The plot this time revolves around the family burial plots that control freak Carol bought years ago without telling any of the children; now that she and Tom are split, she wants to change the order of their resting places.  This gives rise to a big family argument, because Tom doesn’t know that he wants to be in a plot with Carol anymore at all, Nathan has to get Janice to sign a paper renouncing her claim to her grave (which she never agreed to in the first place or even knew she had, but whatever), and Carol could only buy 5 plots in a row, so there was never a separate one for Adam.  Things escalate when Tom agrees to sell his plot to a stranger, Janice will only sign away hers if Nathan will admit he’s as much of a control freak as Carol (he wanted them to rotate their bathroom towels so they’d wear out at the same time), there’s much use of a chalkboard with stick-on coffins and family photos, and there’s your half-hour.

It was all rather witless.  Although there was less emphasis on bodily functions than the pilot featured, the show was still basically scenes of people yelling at each other, with every laugh planted in the easiest, most obvious place (whenever Carol or Nathan would deny being controlling, within 10 seconds they’d say something controlling).  The plotting–Carol convinces the woman buying Tom’s plot to fake her own death, so the family will realize they want to spend eternity together after all–was silly, the lesson learned by episode’s end was written in capital letters and italicized, and in 2013, 2 punchlines about The Golden Girls is at least one too many.

On the plus side, the cast made this nonsense relatively easy to take, and Coupe is a strong addition as Nathan’s ex (her showdown with Arnett at the end of the episode was its strongest scene) and should stick around as long as the show can keep her.  It’s painful, though, to see people like Arnett and Martindale wasted on such dumb material, and it continues to be odd that Garcia, so good in his other shows at giving layers to seemingly low-end characters, can’t seem to do the same here.

The Millers has the single best lead-in on television from The Big Bang Theory, and that guarantees its ratings will be at least decent.  Last week, the premiere lost almost 2 ratings points from its lead-in and still had a 3.3, making it the highest-rated new comedy of the season.  Of course, CBS is keenly aware of the opportunity The Millers has been given, and if its ratings don’t stabilize, or if it’s seen as hurting The Crazy Ones at 9PM, it might not be as secure as its numbers suggest.  With all the high-quality personnel working on the show, perhaps over time it can get better, but the bones that are present now don’t offer much promise.

ORIGINAL VERDICT:  If Nothing Else Is On…

PILOT + 1:  What A Waste

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."