Image Credit: Richard Foreman/ABCThere was a lot of pressure on Better With You last night. Premiering as the lead-in to the second season kickoff of the recent Emmy Award-winner for Best Comedy Series means you’re arriving to a party with an imposing velvet rope and a hard-to-impress bouncer. “You think you’re really good enough to join party with Modern Family, newbie?” Still, Better With You, which follows the intersecting stories of three couples (mom and dad; daughter and longtime beau; other daughter and new airhead fiancé), was better than I expected.
Much of the credit goes to Debra Jo Rupp and Kurt Fuller as parents Vicky and Joel. Their roles weren’t groundbreaking, but Fuller (who I couldn’t stop thinking of as Zachariah, thanks to his stint on Supernatural last year) was likable, and occasionally even hilarious, in his role as a hard-talking, grammar-Nazi dad. I loved that little bit about Kurt wanting to leave dinner moments after arriving, so he and Vicky could walk home and save on taxi fare. Truth be told, most of Fuller’s lines got an upgrade on the laugh-o-meter thanks to Rupp’s line readings and reaction shots. Everything that woman does is funny. Speaking of which, how exciting was it to have Rupp on screen again? It was like seeing the 2010 interpretation of Kitty Forman: no aprons, no winged hair, but relatively the same amount of drinking.
The rest of the main characters fit neatly into prefab sitcom outlines. Eldest daughter Maddie (Jennifer Finnigan) was uptight, successful, and had been dating her equally calculating boyfriend Ben (Josh Cooke) for nine years — with no plans for marriage. (Scandal!) Youngest daughter Mia (Joanna Garcia) was free-spirited, didn’t have a regular 9-to-5 job (she co-founded an Evite-like company), and was jumping into an engagement with a man she’d known for two months named Casey (Jake Lacy) because (spoiler!) they found out she was pregnant. A little formulaic? Sure. But that doesn’t mean there wasn’t some solid banter. Ben and Casey’s budding buddy-dom was cute. Best zinger? Ben to Casey: “Their dad’s a big grammar snob, so think about your sentence structure. No ‘My friend and me went out.’ No ‘That’s the gym I exercise at.’ [Beat] You have no idea why those are wrong.”
Truth be told, there was nothing overtly wrong with Better With You, although if it’s going to live up to its time slot, the writers will have to do something about the 50-50 balance of trite and fresh. (Trite: jokes about the prevalence of the no-underwear lifestyle among young adults; fresh: jokes about dads who get plastic surgery). What do you think? Did you enjoy the parents’ scenes as much as I did? What can Better With You do to become must-see comedy and not your Wednesday night bathroom/snack break? Sound off in the comments!
For more Fall TV ponderings: @EWSandraG
To find out how Better With You did in the ratings, check out Lynette Rice’s ratings report in Hollywood Insider.