Tonight, on Welcome to the Family, we're examining the pitfalls and pratfalls of all kinds of relationships! Or at least, relationships that involve pregnancy and the woman feeling unappreciated by her man (because men are never the ones feeling sad over a lack of spark in a relationship. That's a job for women).
Listen to your wife, when she's calling for you
The Problem: Caroline is pregnant, but Dan just can't get with the program. He's off feeling all threatened because this baby is seriously impeding his plans. Meanwhile, Caroline just needs a burger! But Dan is too busy with his midlife crisis to pay attention to his wife. Oh men. With their need for travel and adventure and their never-wanting-to-rub-their-wife's-feet. What on earth can be done?
The Solution: Buy an RV! This tried and true sitcom classic will work like a charm. Yes, Caroline will hate it and want to burn it with fire, but she'll get over it. Besides, humorous situations will arise when she tries to return it, but first attempts to get that burger you never brought her, Dan. Best off all, the RV just might fortuitously help with every other relationship problem. Like....
Don't you want me baby?
The Problem: Molly and Junior haven't done..."it"....since she announced the pregnancy. And now Junior is acting all weird about it. Is it because he doesn't find her all sexy-like now? Or is it (correctly) that he feels uncomfortable doing ..."it"... in her parent's house, where he is now inexplicably living, with full knowledge and approval from the Yoders and his own parents?
The Solution: Oh that magical RV. After Dan and Caroline decide to keep the broken, defeated, visual crisis of a vehicle, they use tricky reverse psychology on the crazy kids. See by telling Molly and Junior they aren't allowed in the RV, Caroline actually is giving it to them to use as their personal sex palace. Yeah, you sure are a "good mom" Caroline, way to give yourself deserved congrats on that one. And leering over the rocking van from your bedroom window? Not creepy at all.
Junior's mom has got it going on
The Problem: Lisette is finally hit with the realization that Junior's baby means she's going to be--oh, the horror!---a GRANDMOTHER. This revelation comes at the worst possible moment. At parent's night for their youngest son's teacher, Lisette and Miguel run into Miguel's ex-girlfriend, the weirdly prolific Eva Longoria. Man, is she foxy! And all over Miguel! If Lisette didn't feel dowdy before, she sure does now. Because once again, without youth, beauty, and sexual approval from a male, a woman is completely useless.
The Solution: The RV is the place to be. When they go to help Caroline get out of that sticky drive-in situation, Lisette must flirt with a police officer so Dan can talk Caroline down from her frozen, stuck perch in the RV. Armed with bare shoulders and arm-touching action, and fueled by supporting thumbs-ups from a hiding Miguel, Lisette gets her groove back. She might be a grandma, but dang she's sexy! Sexy enough to distract a cop.
Because, as all these stories preach, life is nothing without physical approval from men. So go get 'em ladies! Buckle up on the cliche train and ride that man until you feel good about yourself.
These characters. These wonderful, perfectly imperfect characters. Welcome to the Family might not have the strongest plots around, and in fact indulges some pretty gross story cliches in this episode, but these people are so endearing that it's hard for me to get too worked up about it.
In "Dan Finds Out," surprise surprise, Dan finds out that Caroline is pregnant. This only happens after she predictably tries to hide it from everyone, ends up running into the whole family at her sonogram appointment, and then having poor honest Junior be the first to find out. Caroline continues to hide it while gauging how Dan would react, Dan goes off into a pity party of one about how much his life sucks, which in turn scares off Caroline from telling him. Pretty well-worn territory.
But when Dan does find out, and reacts as badly as sitcom dads are supposed to, it's an unexpectedly believable build to that moment. He has had things pile on him slowly, from stress with a pregnant daughter to difficulty navigating new family territory, and he's emotionally where we'd expect him to be at that point. It's not a mere cartoon of the man's head exploding. It's the real frustration and helplessness that comes when things are completely out of your grasp. Right after Dan finds out, when he gets out of his car and looks at poor bewildered Miguel, there's a flash across his face that betrays everything has left his control. He's now powerless. And he shows it, not as an actor faking emotion but as a person feeling that sensation.
And though the resolution to that story ends in a goofball manner, with men actually working out their feelings by using their fists (in crotch punching no less!), it feels like this is the only way the conflict could sort itself out. It feels right. It's natural, just like the friendship between Lisette and Caroline, or the affection between Molly and Junior. The situations might be staid, but these characters are vibrantly real.
-I somehow absolutely adore Molly. She's--dare I say it--probably one of the best female characters I've ever seen. I don't know how they manage to take a silly blonde girl who had the foolishness to get pregnant and imbue her with such warmth, but well done. She's a character I would typically hate, but she's so fearless and assured, so willing to speak her mind and to admit when she's wrong, that I have to applaud. Well done.
-Dan's hat is dumb. Grown men should not try to wear fedoras. I don't know how he got to wear that without anyone mocking him once. Oversight, dear writers.
-I'm glad they acknowledged how dumb challenging a pro boxer to a fight is, because seriously Dan. That was stupid. You won the insurance fight (a ridiculous argument if ever there was one), but do not try to take on a man who owns a gym when you haven't worked out in years.
Welcome to the Family occasionally trips it's way into tired sitcom territory. The record scratch of music at an awkward moment. The hot wife and doughy, loudmouth husband. The ditzy blonde and her dreaming boyfriend. Angry people in an absurd setting. None of this is new, it's just pushed through a "new" lens of familial and racial relationships. And yet. And yet, it's not insufferable.
Which is great, because it looks like NBC put some stakes on this show. In terms of shooting alone, this thing looks swanky. Maybe I've been watching too many crappy CBS sitcoms this year, but Welcome to the Family looks like one of the most lovely produced programs on TV--all believable settings and natural tones. It lends an air of warm realism, giving credence to the admittedly cornball nature of some plots.
The plots themselves aren't too bad though. Even if they are, they're being saved by the acting. Going into this pilot, I thought I would have to duck under blankets and cover my ears every time Mike O'Malley's Dan Yoder was onscreen. Great, I thought. Another yelling dad. But to my surprise, this is a bellowy patriarch that works! His banter with wife Caroline and daughter Molly is sweet, sincere, and funny. When he announces to his dental partner and secretary that Molly is pregnant, the secretary coos her congratulations. Like a western gunslinger, Dan rapidly fires a 'nope' in her direction. He gazes expectantly for his partner's response of 'I'm sorry,' and shoves a 'Yes. That's what you say' in the rejected wounds of the secretary. The entire scene plays out in a matter of seconds, and it's played perfectly.
It's that kind of interplay that made this an enjoyable watch. These people are a shinier, cleaner, more quick-footed version of us. Insane things are happening to them, but they way they respond makes us wish, just a little, that we could be a more like them. That we could be like Molly, a complete airhead but utterly confident. That we could be as scrubbed and earnest as Junior. That we could have Caroline's humor, or the assurance of Junior's father Chuey.
These characters are somehow complex and interesting already. And though I didn't laugh out loud, I sure did smile the entire pilot.
It's a shame that Welcome to the Family the only thing standing between me and an early return of Community. If it weren't for that, I'd be wholeheartedly rooting for it. As it is, however, I can only hope that Sean Saves the World thoroughly tanks, so that the Yoders and the Rodriguezs have a chance to stretch out their season.