You may recognize Justin Adler’s name from the late sitcoms Less Than Perfect, Samantha Who?, and Better Off Ted. But his latest endeavor, CBS’ Life in Pieces feels more like a Garry Marshall film than those shows. The series follows a multigenerational family as they tackle the ups and downs of adult life. And while the pilot included a handful of TMI moments, witty one-liners, and some relatability, it’s too early to decide if we’ll come back each week.
The half hour kicked off with the first of four vignettes; it’s a story that, if explored deeper, could probably fill the entire slot. In an attempt to continue the evening with his date Colleen (Angelique Cabral), the Short family’s youngest member Matt (Thomas Sadowski) heads back to her place. But when their glorified “Netflix and chill” time gets interrupted by Colleen’s live-in ex-fiancé Chad (Jordan Peele) — “Because of his IRS troubles, he can’t afford to leave, and I can’t afford to buy him out,” she explains of the atypical living situation — the duo take the night to Matt’s house.
Colleen’s initial amazement at the Shorts’ house feigns when she’s greeted by Matt’s mother, Joan (Dianne Wiest), offering her a scoop of vanilla ice cream. “I have a scoop every night,” Joan admits, as sign she’s living her best life. Defeated, Matt offers to drive Colleen home, but not before they get it on in his sedan and get caught in the act by the cops.
Matt’s brother Greg’s cut of the story opens in the hospital, as his wife Jen (Zoe Lister-Jones) is giving birth and expressing her concern that she pooped on the table. With the baby girl out of the womb and in a swaddle so tight she’ll be wrapped up until high school, the new parents head home, lacking almost any idea how to care for their “baby burrito.” “How is the hospital letting us leave?” Greg remarks.
Their rawness is refreshing, proving you can read What to Expect When You’re Expecting cover to cover and still have no clue how to change a diaper. But Adler gets a little too graphic (especially for network TV) when Hanks’ character must relieve his wife’s post-pregnancy pain with a frozen rubber glove, doctor’s orders.
The awkardness continues when we meet oldest Short sibling Heather (Betsy Brandt) and her husband, Tim (Dan Bakkedahl), who painstakingly recalls the time he “lost his virginity” to a couch cushion in an attempt to bond with his college-bound son (Niall Cunningham). Feeling like her children are growing up too fast and longing for a “special baby” with whom they’ll get everything right, Heather brings Tim to the hotel’s ice machine room for a quick baby-making session. But after Tim questions whether Heather’s pipes still function, creating kid No. 4 no longer becomes a possibility. “Nine times out of 10 I don’t think, I just speak,” Tim says, proclaiming the slogan for all men everywhere.
The mood shifts in the episode’s final stretch, when the family unites the kids with their mom for their dad’s funeral. If you haven’t seen a single promo for the show, you know something’s up when Matt declares he’s “never been to one of these before.” What adult man has never been to a funeral? Once John (James Brolin) welcomes everyone to his birthday party, it becomes clear that no one is dead, rather that John’s living out the dream of those people who say they want their funeral to be a celebration. Everyone plays along, with Greg stealing a speech from Four Weddings and a Funeral, and Heather’s family singing Elton John’s “Candle in the Wind.”
Things get too real when Joan attempts to eulogize her husband, and the reality that she might one day have to do this kicks in. “You kept asking ‘Why don’t more people do this?'” Joan recalls after the fake funeral. “This is why!” Still getting into the spirit of the theme, John jumps into the empty casket and asks Joan to join him. But before she can hop in, the casket shuts and the Shorts must wheel the coffin to the closest Jiffy Lube to pry out their still-living dad.
Pieces‘ dark comedic ending reflects what we’ve seen of the sitcom so far; it got real about a variety of issues adults face at various stages in their lives, putting a humorous spin on the not-so-glamorous aspects to which many viewers can relate. Adler will presumably introduce some extended family members, but since we already know how everyone fits in, it’ll require thorough character development and a strong plot for Pieces to maintain viewers’ interest.
And given that each couples’ layer of the story hits closest to home with a different generation, the series might struggle to find its demo. That same element could also make Pieces a perfect family sitcom — although I’m not sure how many people’s ideal Monday night is spent watching Colin Hanks stick a frozen glove up his TV wife next to their parents.
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Life in Pieces airs Mondays at 8:30 p.m. ET on CBS.