"It's a fart. Some people think they’re funny." That's what Margo Martindale's character Carol, a screeching cliché of a helicopter mother, declares in the pilot of CBS' new comedy The Millers. That sums up the apparent operating principle behind this show: fart jokes. So many fart jokes.
In the first episode of The Millers, a stunningly unfunny laugh track comedy, there are no less than eight fart jokes alone, all at the expense of Martindale's Miller family matriarch. You never actually hear said farts (probably for the best) but you do hear a lot of "Did you fart?" and "Crack the window" zingers. The jokes are not silent, but oh man, they are deadly.
Actually, it's kind of amazing that the sounds of Martindale's farts (that's a sentence I'm less proud of writing than I'm sure you are of reading) aren't amplified to 11, because everything else in the show is. All of the characters on this show seem to shout at one another (Martindale -- an esteemed Emmy-winning character actress -- especially), as if saying these jokes louder will somehow make them funny. They don't.
The Millers is a lame, unintelligent series jam-packed with every sitcom trope in the book and some seriously uncomfortable performances. It's rare to see a cast of this caliber not only part of a show well beneath their talents, but one in which they are almost painfully aware of that fact. Then again, how can they give 100 percent to material that hardly gives them an inch?
At the center of this horrific mess is Will Arnett, so gloriously funny earlier this year in the Season 4 of cult favorite Arrested Development, who is given nothing more to do on The Millers but roll his eyes at all the "wacky" antics. He plays Nathan, a recently divorced TV news reporter (who lives in a stunning brownstone that only a fictitious person could ever possibly afford) whose life gets nutty when his mom moves in with him after her dopey husband Tom (Beau Bridges) decides on a whim that he, too, wants to be split from his significant other.
Oh, but ol' Tom isn't out of the picture. No, he's off driving Nathan's sister (Jayma Mays) and brother-in-law (Nelson Franklin) crazy with his own antics. He can't work the remote! He can't work the microwave! Help!
The Millers feels like a fake sitcom that characters on a superior, smarter show would be watching as a punch line. It has all the icky, shock value sex jokes that make the CBS sitcom world go 'round; there's a token minority character (J.B. Smoove plays Arnett's coworker, whose sole purpose is to say trivial things like "Old white women love their ice cream," though I'm pretty sure that's a universally loved thing); there are jokes about how men are stupid and women are slutty; and, of course, there's forced sentimentality with convenient lessons learned like "starting over is hard" and "don't give up".
In the final scene of the pilot, Arnett hosts a house party in which he dances with his distraught mother to "The Time of My Life" from Dirty Dancing. Now, this might not be weird if: A) the scene from Crazy Stupid Love wasn't already burned in our brains and B-Z) it wasn't his mother's favorite song, so much so that she forced him to dance to it at his wedding with his now ex-wife and now he's dancing to the romantic ballad with his mother. As Smoove's character declares, it's "very creepy." He also forgot to mention it's unfunny, baffling and just plain dreadful, like the show as a whole.
I'd say that The Millers is completely laugh-free, but there was one thing that kept making me chuckle throughout. Earlier this year, two of my friends and I joked that CBS, keeping in line with their rich tradition of lowest-common-denominator sitcoms, would launch a show called Fart Mom. Not only can I not help but chuckle at the thought that we actually willed this thing into existence, but that CBS shows now border on self-parody without any sense of self-awareness. At least Fart Mom would be a more honest title, in every sense of the word.
Fart Mom, er, The Millers premiered at 8:30 PM ET on Thursday, October 3 on CBS.
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