'One Big Happy' react: Too one-note, not enough happy
One Big Happy, NBC’s latest multi-cam sitcom, gets its name from the one big happy family Elisha Cuthbert’s Lizzy and Nick Zano’s Luke are about to have. See, Lizzy is a lesbian and Luke is her straight best friend—but they promised each other years ago that if they weren’t romantically attached by age 30, they’d have a baby together. And now they’re 30.
The problem is, Luke meets a woman while he and Lizzy are trying to get pregnant. This woman, Prudence, is played by Kelly Brook, who’s more known for her modeling career than her acting one—and that shows: Brook turns Prudence into a overly bubbly, one-dimensional character whose defining traits are her thick British accent and her love of sci-fi. And these are, assumedly, the reasons why Luke falls in love with her after one day. Assumedly, because that’s all we know about her (that, and her penchant for walking around nude) before Luke blurts out that he loves her the day after meeting. That’s how love works, everyone.
Lizzy doesn’t take too well to Luke’s new girlfriend. One day they were planning their future as parents, the next he’s moony over Prudence—Prudence, who Lizzy finds completely naked in their kitchen. Now, comparing fictional TV to reality isn’t the most productive. Television isn’t intended to be a mirror of reality, after all, but rather an escape from it. With that said: No one walks around nude in other people’s apartments, and this gag comes off more as a way to remind viewers that, hey, the actress who plays Prudence is a model than as a legitimate joke.
It doesn’t help that the joke goes on for way too long: Lizzy freaks out Prudence’s vagina is getting all over their kitchen, Prudence asks Lizzy if lesbians would like her, Prudence gives an uncomfortable Lizzy an uncomfortable hug. And the whole time, it’s not clear whether Lizzy is supposed to be enjoying Prudence’s nudity or if she’s actually annoyed by it. Cuthbert, who shined playing a ditz in Happy Endings, is usually a delightful comic actress, but that so infrequently comes through in this episode.
Part of that is because she’s left to be the jealous, angry friend while Luke frolicks around with his new lady. The show operates on extremes, so there’s really no room for Lizzy or Luke to be dynamic characters portraying more than one emotion, at least not yet. That means Lizzy’s left to be the Angry One and Luke’s left to be the Happy One—and that means Lizzy occasionally comes off as a sort of villain throughout the episode, as someone who’s refusing to let her best friend be happy because of her own insecurities.
All this tension peaks when Luke announces he married Prudence (partly so she wouldn’t be deported) and when Lizzy replies by announcing she’s pregnant. They fight some more, Luke and Prudence break up, and Lizzy runs to the airport and convinces Prudence not to leave. It’s a rom-com ending that’s very aware of how much of a rom-com ending it is—Lizzy, at one point, suggests Luke stop Prudence from getting on the plane and asks if he’s ever seen a movie when he responds with confusion.
The problem with the rom-com ending though is it’s not exactly a welcome one. All Prudence does is create problems in what seemed like an interesting, watchable friendship between Lizzy and Luke, and the actress’ one-note performance doesn’t help make her character any more likable. The show would be stronger, and more intriguing, had it stuck to the original premise: A man and his gay best friend raise a baby together. But adding another woman to the mix complicates a show that would do better with a premise as simple as possible. Its strength, so far, lies in its jokes (not great by any means, but funny enough to satisfy a viewer looking for a half-hour of lighthearted TV) and not its convoluted story—something the show hopefully realizes sooner rather than later.
One Big Happy airs at 9:30 p.m. ET on NBC.