It’s telling that about 10 minutes into NBC’s One Big Happy, Carol King’s “Too Late” popped into my head, a reaction, I suspect, to the show’s risibly outdated, laugh-box-amplified sense of humor and its dependence on rote sitcom tropes. This may come as a surprise, considering the show’s premise is, at first glance, socially progressive, detailing the relationship between Lizzy (24‘s Elisha Cuthbert), a successful lesbian living in Los Angeles, and Luke (2 Broke Girls‘ Nick Zano), her best friend and father to her unborn child, via a sperm donation. The series’ bonafides are only bolstered by the fact that Ellen Degeneres, who was a devastatingly funny comedian a long time before she was talking with pre-adolescent presidential historians on daytime TV, serves as executive producer. Moment to moment, however, One Big Happy is nothing more than a familiar, by-the-books comedy, unoriginally structured and brazenly false even by today’s sitcom standards.
The scenario is complicated by the introduction of Prudence (Piranha 3D’s own Kelly Brook), an English illegal alien that Luke falls hard for at a local bar, but neither the jokes nor the emotional connections seem to change all that much or grow more potent with her inclusion. In most scenes, Luke is portrayed as the reasonable man who has to keep Prudence and Lizzy from being socially awkward, bickering at one another, or just generally sputtering out of control, despite the fact that Luke is full-on Al Bundy-dumb. One could excuse this as par for the course when it comes to classic sitcom structure, but it feels particularly irksome when considering the show’s mildly admirable intent in showcasing homosexuality in a broad sitcom format. That being said, with the exception of mentioning a few gay celebrities, including Lizzy’s dream of having Jodie Foster preside over her wedding, the show has absolutely zero interest in giving any convincing detail of what being single and gay is like for Lizzy, who is, as a character, defined by nothing but her sexuality.
Indeed, at one point, Luke tells Lizzy, “I have no ideas what you guys do,” which could be a tagline for the series, created by 2 Broke Girls’ supervising producer and writer Liz Feldman. Feldman has said that the character of Lizzy is based on her own experiences as a lesbian in L.A., which is startling considering the lack of nuance to Lizzy, or any of these characters, for that matter. In the third episode, “Crushing It,” Lizzy goes about trying to date a nurse, who just so happens to work for her OB/GYN. And like other modern comedies, the focus of their meet-cute is the universal awkwardness of dating, rather than jokes even remotely in danger of being misconstrued as specific or uniquely personal.
Even if the entire trajectory of the series shows a preference for jokes over plot, the humor is broad and largely crass, but not provocatively so or delivered in a way that conveys a sense of self-awareness. That the show is also entirely devoid of visual style is almost beside the point. What’s ultimately so bothersome about One Big Happy is its feigning to address the timely subject of what, if anything, defines the concept of family these days. In reality, the series uses homosexuality and alternatives to the nuclear family as nothing more than cheap hooks, meant to help repackage jokes about marriage, kids, and singledom that weren’t fresh when Drew Carey was telling them.
Rating: ★ Poor — A waste of time; clear your DV-R space
One Big Happy premieres on NBC March 17th at 9:30 p.m.