October 2, 2013

THE SKED Pilot + 1 Review: “Trophy Wife”


TROPHY WIFE:  Tuesday 9:30PM on ABC

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 TROPHY WIFE:  Kate Harrison (Malin Akerman) is the cheerful, committed, trying-really-hard third wife of Pete (Bradley Whitford).  As such, she’s inherited both his previous spouses, scary Diane (Marcia Gay Harden) and New Age-y Jackie (Michaela Watkins), as well as their combined children:  Diane’s teens Warren (Ryan Lee) and Hillary (Bailee Madison) and Jackie’s Bert (Albert Tsai).

Episode 2:  In its regular-episode debut, written by series creators Emily Halpern and Sarah Haskins, and directed by Bryan Gordon, Trophy Wife toned things down a bit from the pilot, which featured an extensive drunk scene for Malin Akerman.  The episode’s structure was slightly unusual for such a young show in that its two storylines were entirely unrelated, and Kate had almost nothing to do for the entire half hour with Diane, Warren or Hillary.  The segments themselves, though, followed the classic sitcom template of characters disastrously trying to hide embarrassing truths from others.

In Kate’s story, she had earnestly told Pete that she wanted to have more responsibility with the kids so she’d feel like a real part of the family.  He gave her the job of putting Bert to sleep while he was away, a major undertaking requiring stories, vaguely OCD clothing arrangements, and countdowns from very high numbers.  Kate botched it, letting Bert stay up too late watching disturbing TV (while she slept), and made things worse by slipping him coffee in the morning when he couldn’t wake up.  This led to the episode’s major slapstick sequence, as Bert went to soccer practice alternately flying high on the coffee and then crashing, which led to a ball kicked by Kate right in his abdomen and a brief, everything-is-OK hospital visit.  The other plotline had Warren and Hillary trying to hide the salsa stain they’d made on Diane’s sofa.  She was on to them at once, and hit them with a campaign of extreme passive-aggression, finding every possible way to bring the concept of “salsa” front and center until they cracked.

Trophy Wife isn’t much more than mildly entertaining.  Akerman is very likable and, like her character, she’s really trying to make it work, but there’s not much more to Kate than enthusiasm.  Even though Whitford had more to do in tonight’s episode than in the pilot, Pete is still a very bland presence.  Harden is certainly distinctive–she still seems to be playing her litigator from The Newsroom–but her ferocious character feels like it’s from a different show; it almost wasn’t comic when she made her kids squirm all episode long over the sofa stain.  The most notable of the kids is certainly young Tsai, who got most of the episode’s A-level material.

With its blended family in three different households, it’s awfully hard not to compare Trophy Wife with Modern Family, but while that show had its tone nailed right out of the box, Trophy Wife is still putting itself together, both structurally (is it a vehicle for Akerman or a true ensemble?) and in terms of the kind of comedy it wants to be.  Last week’s mediocre premiere rating of 2.3 (down 0.8 from its The Goldbergs lead-in) may mean it has limited time to figure itself out.  It’s a show with a lot of appealing pieces, but there’s still a lot of work to be done.

ORIGINAL VERDICT:  If Nothing Else Is On…

PILOT + 1:  Pleasant Isn’t Enough

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."