You know, I may not have been 100 percent on board with NBC's last attempt at creating its own Modern Family-style comedy hit, Ryan Murphy's The New Normal, but I did appreciate that show's full-throated endorsement of blended families and the way it filtered the relationships between parents and their children (both of the grown-up and still-youthful variety) through a sweetly sarcastic lens. I found myself particularly missing Normal while watching its replacement: Welcome to the Family, a more straightforward Modern Family knock-off that's twice as annoying even the worst episode of The New Normal… and possibly even Glee. (Though that's a harder case to make, what with last season's school-shooting episode, among other things.)
Watching last night's premiere, I got the feeling that Welcome to the Family happened because a network development exec was looking over his or her Nielsen report and thought something to the effect of, "Hey, that MTV show Teen Mom is pretty popular. Wonder if we could something like that? But, you know, without the broken families, drug abuse and nascent porn careers." Thus, Family takes place in urban, upscale L.A. as opposed to the economically challenged suburban areas that MTV's apparently endless supply of teen moms tend to hail from. Also, compared to the actual teenagers on Teen Mom, the mom-to-be here -- 18-year-old high-school graduate Molly (Ella Rae Peck, formerly of the gone and definitely forgotten midseason series Deception) -- is practically an old maid when she gets knocked up by her boyfriend, Junior (Joseph Haro), the prodigal son of a working-class Latino family. Molly is like her MTV brethren in one respect, though (apart from the being pregnant part, obviously): she's none too bright, a fact that everyone else on the show -- including her parents! -- take great pleasure in pointing out.
Goodness knows that the fall TV season is rife with obnoxious kid and teen characters who deserve a good telling-off. Even so, I was a little surprised by how much everyone on Welcome to the Family seemed to essentially hate Molly, or at least pity her for having a "Closed for Business" sign where her brain should be. Her mom and dad -- that would be Dan (Mike O'Malley, who knows a thing or two about parenting irritating kids after his tour of duty as both Kurt and Finn's father figure on Glee) and Caroline (Mary McCormack -- poor, poor Mary McCormack who went from her own USA series to… well, this) -- can't wait for her to get out of the house and openly mock the fact that the only college she was accepted by was the Southwest's premiere party school.
Meanwhile, Junior's parents -- that would be Miguel (Ricardo A. Chavira, from Desperate Housewives) and Lisette (the extremely likable Justina Machado… please don't hold this show against her, casting agents) -- appear so dubious about Molly's mental faculties that they're legitimately surprised to learn she actually graduated high school. Hell, even her boyfriend and baby daddy recognizes she's a dim bulb, at one point kindly (but condescendingly) telling her she's confusing the word "patriotic" for "patriarchal" -- a joke that clearly killed in the writer's room, because they repeat it later in the episode.
It's hard to rise too quickly to Molly's defense, however, because she is written and played as such a shortsighted non-thinker -- someone who could have avoided this predicament if she had expended a modicum of mental energy on birth control. Needless to say, Junior deserves just as much blame for thinking with another part of the body besides his brain in that regard, but the show curiously doesn't push that point as strongly as it should. Instead, it's intimated that the upstanding honors student just screwed up this one time, whereas his girlfriend has a long history of dumb mistakes. And boy, do the writers fast-forward past even the slightest suggestion that she might consider an abortion; that word predictably, but disappointingly, has no place in Molly's demonstrably limited vocabulary.
Still, the antipathy the writers have for Molly kills a lot of the show's already deficient sense of humor, not to mention its supposedly positive "up with family" messaging that accompanies its depiction of two clans from different ethnic and class backgrounds learning how to get along. Based on what we saw during the pilot at least, the way they'll do it is by dumping on the slow-witted pregnant girl early and often. If UPN hadn't already claimed the name, a more accurate title for Welcome to the Family would've beeen Everybody Hates Molly… and Her Dumb Baby.
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