“These slices of life that flash by,” says James Brolin’s character near the end of the “Pilot,” which summarizes Life In Pieces. Life In Pieces tells four short stories in an episode, every week, and each story concerns members of the same family. Early reviews compared the series to Modern Family. The Daily Beast wondered, “Is it the next Modern Family?” No, it’s not. Life In Pieces compares better with NBC’s recently ended Parenthood if Parenthood went for the tears from laughter instead of the tears from sadness. The four short stories represent the slices of life that flash by and which remain with the family forever. Brolin’s short monologue’s played over shots of scenes earlier in the episode. The premise, as all pilots do, came together in the final act.
Life In Pieces follows the formula of every network sitcom from the past year. Goofiness, comic gags, silliness, a touch of the absurd, awkwardness turned into humor, only for the moment of heartwarming sentimentality to come in the last act of the series. The audience laughed (maybe). By the third act, the audience wants to feel the feels, as my peers and young millennial folk tend to say whenever they feel emotion—whether it be a napping cat or Dianne Wiest to utilize her Oscar winning chops when the absurd funeral-birthday celebration becomes grave and morbid for the wife married to her husband for the last 49 years. Yes, one day they will die. The scene of starting mortality precedes the scene in which James Brolin’s John asks to make love to his wife in the coffin. The reader may never believe me, but the coffin shut when Joan tried to climb in for sex in a coffin. That’s high concept comedy.
The “Pilot” probably played better to those who did not see a single preview. CBS, and every other network, gives away the entire first episode in the teaser. Prior to the start, CBS ran a final preview that showed every gag and every essential character beat. The first story—“First Date—introduces a sad sack ex-fiance character (played by Jordan Peele). Matt and his date search for a place to have sex. They further scar his date’s ex-fiance. They try to have sex at his parent’s house, but they’re home. John doesn’t know how to pause the TV due to the endless number of remote controls. Their evening ends with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, sex, and an instance of mistaken prostitution. The next scene for Matt is at the mock funeral. His father won’t let him finish his mock eulogy. Two essential things about Matt: he values sex more than human decency, and his father sort of thinks little of him.
The second story, which concerns the delivery of a baby, has a solid two laughs. The new parents feel unprepared to take their baby home to raise. They wondered why the hospital would let them, two individuals without parenting experience, take the baby home so soon. The rest of the story is full of post-labor vagina jokes. If you watched but one preview you heard the comparison to the predator joke. Colin Hank’s Greg bemoans the new direction his baby-filled, suddenly sexless marriage took. Justin Adler and the writers have a ready-made couple weeks of new baby comic fun that’s likely all trope and cliché.
I liked the third story. Adler established a family’s dynamics, the broad, essential beats of the individual family members, the dynamics of the married couple, while telling a story about a mother’s struggle with the truth about her kids growing and maturing. Her son gets drunk during his college tour. Her youngest daughter learned Santa Claus doesn’t exist. The middle child had her first period. The mother, played by Betsy Brandt, instinctively tries to breed with her self-aware free husband. The husband character’s my kind of stock sitcom character: aloof, terrible at advice, without depth, unable to recognize social and verbal cues, and a near buffoon. He blows his chance at sex after commenting about the age of his wife and the possibility of her infertility.
The final story puts a button on the episode, brings the stories together under the umbrella of capturing the slices of life flashing by. Will the finale reveal the stories as the memories of each member on their deathbed? These snippets of their life meant the most to them. No way that’s the way the end of series. Maybe the series ends in two weeks because no one watched. Life In Pieces has a great lead-in. I think it’ll get a full season, but what the heck do I know?
Will I watch for a full season? I’m curious about the short story format. Life In Pieces tells the full story of a particular character within the act. It may change. Stories may begin in the first act and end in the last act. Writers, executives, and studio heads want to stand out however they can. Life In Pieces’ structure separates it from Modern Family, The Middle, Fresh Off The Boat, etc. Overall, it’s an average sitcom.
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