The multi-cam sitcom holds a special place in the American heart. With the canned laughs, high-gloss sets, and bite size revelations at the end of every episode, it’s the television equivalent of Jimmy John’s: It’s not going to blow your mind but it’s fast, easy, and adequate. Like the best multi-cams (Friends, Will and Grace, I’m sure there are others), One Big Happy aims squarely for the middle, and lands the shot. Which is kind of a shame, because there are some jokes in the series premiere that betray a sensibility that is sharper, wittier, and wickeder than the format they inhabit. Specifically, this is a show with the potential to be really funny to queer women—you can feel Liz Feldman and Erin Foley’s expertise at play. Where it snags is when it tries to adhere to the sitcom golden mean: diverse but not too diverse, edgy but never offensive, starring two women but trying desperately (and needlessly) to appeal to the male gaze.
OBH opens with its biggest decision already made: Lizzy the lesbian and Luke the straight man are planning to have a baby.
WE’RE A TOTALLY MODERN FAMILY. I MEAN, WE’RE THE NEW NORMAL. SHIT.
In the first scene, Lizzy has been inseminated (via cup and turkey baster, thank Ellen!) and she and Luke are shopping for prenatal vitamins. Why start here instead of including the moment they decide to co-parent? Could it perhaps be because the logic behind that decision is as sturdy as the sets? Look, it’s a sitcom and we’re all here to have a good time, so I’m only going to say this once: Making Luke the father of this baby is dumb. I concede that we live in a world in which boundaries and definitions are constantly blurring and evolving in ways that are beautifully challenging, or challengingly beautiful. People are making families out of their friends and neighbors and papier mache AND THAT’S GREAT. But most lesbians do not choose to make babies with their male best friends in hopes of replicating a mom and pop family structure. For one thing, both parties are likely to find partners who may or may not fit into the dynamic. For another, custody issues can be insanely sticky—except on television, where everyone needs men to feel like a necessary and included demographic in all decisions. It chafes a bit. So there’s the fundamental premise of this sitcom deconstructed, and either you can live with it or you can’t. Moving on.
Whatever my gripes are with the concept, Lizzie and Luke have great friend chemistry; I believe in their inside jokes and the fact that Luke first suspected his friend might be gay when she wore a top hat to prom (“It matched my tux!”). Also, Luke is precisely the kind of television man I like in that he reminds me of a big, friendly dog, not pretending to any real complexity or depth of feeling, just bounding happily along and opening life’s more troublesome jars. And as for Elisha Cuthbert, forgive me, but it’s kind of hard to believe that someone that pretty can be that funny. But she is. She is really pretty and really funny. I just hope that the writers aren’t too attached to the Type-A character thing, because the best moments are when she is declaring a pair of baby socks “SO DUMB” or falling all over herself at the sight of a pair of artfully pixelated breasts.
When Lizzie and Luke flunk their pregnancy test, they decide to drown their sorrows at the bar, where we meet Lizzie’s sister and brother-in-law.
OR MAYBE HE’S LIZZIE’S BROTHER. DON’T MAKE ANY ASSUMPTIONS; THIS IS THE FUTURE.
These two might just be stock fill-in-the-blank supporting characters, were it not for the fact that they openly fear and despise their own child, which is always hilarious. I don’t why; I don’t make the rules.