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Review: 'How to Live With Your Parents' is a by-the-manual comedy

Sarah Chalke, Elizabeth Perkins, Brad Garrett and Rachel Eggleston star in the ABC sitcom that goes for wacky but relies on tropes.

April 03, 2013|By Robert Lloyd, Los Angeles Times Television Critic
  • Brad Garrett and Elizabeth Perkins star in "How to Live With Your Parents (For the Rest of Your Life)."
Brad Garrett and Elizabeth Perkins star in "How to Live With Your Parents… (Michael Ansell, ABC )

Some fine actors have contracted to appear in "How to Live With Your Parents (For the Rest of Your Life)," a multi-generational family comedy premiering Wednesday night on ABC. It should do their careers no lasting harm.

It is the sort of neither-here-nor-there sitcom that can make me feel faintly sad for the form, and by extension for the health of the nation, and yet it is no worse than so many others that come and go and sometimes, to my surprise, come and stay. If it can only stop pawing at your leg and licking your face for a moment, it may settle down into something you would allow in the house.

Sarah Chalke is Polly, who returns home one rainy day with daughter Natalie (Rachel Eggleston) in tow — they are everywhere on TV lately, these adorable moppets — having left her husband, who is not a responsible person. (Though, as Jon Dore plays him, he is perhaps the most appealing character the series has.)

ON LOCATION: Where the cameras roll

Her mother and stepfather, played by Elizabeth Perkins and Brad Garrett, greet her at the door wearing, respectively, a blanket and a strategically placed copy of Jonathan Franzen's "The Corrections." That they have answered the door at all — they have been Messing Around, obviously — is only for the comedy.

"I'm not a failure," Polly says, putting a positive spin on her living situation, "I'm trendy." She is certainly not out of step with television, where this sort of thing happens all the time.

For all its asserted wackiness, it is heavily invested in the old tropes: Someone tells a lie to make something easy and has to work twice as hard to maintain it; someone has a clever idea that turns out to be a stupid idea. Someone gets bit trying to pet a puppy dog.

Creator Claudia Lonow has spoken of the characters' correspondence to members of her own family; this is her story, more or less. Still, family stories do not always play as well outside the clan as within, and there is perhaps too strong a motivation not to hurt anyone's feelings. (On the other hand: kindness.) The stories bend toward sentimental narrated endings, with intermittent dustings of irony to snare and satisfy the millennials.

Because Polly's parents have no boundaries, being from the 1970s, she strives for normalcy. The series is mildly, if frequently, spicy. I counted only one oral sex joke in the three episodes I've seen, but there are many references to Polly's breasts, and Polly's mother talks a lot about sex: "I am very proud of my orgasms" is something she says.

The odder, more sidelong jokes are the better: a fish that keeps jumping out of its bowl; Polly's mother's inability to remember whether she ever bathed her as a baby ("I don't know. Do you know? I really feel like one of us should remember that."); Polly's description of a dress as "something a couple of cartoon birds made up for me this morning." It is funny when Natalie says, "Oy," because, well — "Oy" is just funny.


'How to Live With Your Parents (For the Rest of Your Life)'

Where: ABC

When: 9:30 p.m. Wednesday

Rating: TV-PG-DL (may be unsuitable for young children with advisories for suggestive dialogue and coarse language)


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