Liz Meriwether and JJ Philbin are best known for their work on FOX’s recently wrapped comedy New Girl, but now the two are at ABC with another collection of lovable, fallible weirdos in Single Parents, a hangout comedy that’s been cleverly disguised as a family sitcom. Centered on a collection of — you guessed it! — single parents, the series features a charming cast that includes Leighton Meester, Brad Garrett, Kimrie Lewis, and Jake Choi, as a group of friends who rely on one another to have some semblance of a life outside raising their kids, find themselves (a little reluctantly at first) helping pull newcomer Will Cooper (Taran Killam) out of a spiral he's fallen into since his relationship fell apart.
Right away the series feels like a natural progression from New Girl, particularly where the characters were when that series reached its conclusion. What began as a comedy about a group of slightly lost twenty- and thirty-somethings fitfully working their way toward adulthood, ended with them arriving at their long-delayed destination. Single Parents, then, is about what happens next. Not to the loft dwellers of New Girl, but to a new collection of characters, all of whom have arrived at what is meant to be a major destination in their lives, only to find out the goal posts have been moved.
The series opens on Will, who’s somewhere between starting over and already having given up, seemingly winnowing his identity down to his role as a full-time father, one who, in lieu of actual furniture in his home, has beanbags scattered everywhere and an indoor trampoline — you know, for those days when the weather won’t cooperate but your kids just have to have a broken bone. He’s so far gone into this idea of only being a father to his daughter Sophie (Marlow Barkley) that’s he’s completely forgotten he deserves to have a life too. Enter the much cooler parents at Sophie’s school, Angie (Meester), Poppy (Lewis), Douglas (Garrett), and Miggy (Choi). In a bid to avoid having to volunteer for Will’s insipid Taco Tuesday program and other parent-student activities, the group inadvertently ends up bringing the new guy into the fold.
Despite its conceit, Single Parents isn’t really about parenting; it’s mostly about the unlikely camaraderie between these otherwise disparate people, who’ve come to rely on one another to keep their lives from being entirely subsumed by their children. That’s not to say the series or the characters have a negative view of the little rug rats, but it does feel as though its intention is to showcase the relationships of its adult characters, with the kids acting as the element that brings them together. Thanks to the Single Parents casting department, the series has a likable group of young actors, like Devin Trey Campbell as Rory Banks and twins Mia and Ella Allan as Douglas’s daughters Emma and Amy, who fill the requisite cuteness factor and offer a few kid-friendly jokes without derailing the comedy.
What that comedy will look like in the weeks to come is a good question, as, like almost all sitcom pilots, Single Parents doesn’t really know what the series is actually going to be or how well the cast will begin to play off one another. There is some good chemistry to be sure, mainly between Killam and Garrett, though Garrett’s charisma is such that he actually livened up Showtime’s I’m Dying Up Here during a recent stint on that show’s second season. Still, when it comes to delivering a Moana singalong in the episode’s climactic moment, the two actors work off one another well enough to think Single Parents might make a go of it, so long as it can conjure up similarly strange but funny moments.
What the show needs is the same thing most sitcoms do when they begin: time for the cast to gel and for the writers to figure out what the individual strengths of their performers are. Single Parents has the right creative pedigree and the right cast to become a hit for ABC. The ensemble here hasn’t quite figured out how to play the characters off one another at the same time, but the show does find its way to a few funny moments once the characters are split into pairs. With any luck, the show and its cast will evolve into the same kind of ensemble that Meriwether and Philbin had with the cast of New Girl. Only time will tell.
Single Parents continues next Wednesday with ‘Sleepover Ready’ @9:30pm on ABC.