Life in Pieces: A Show Struggling to Find Its Balance

Life in Pieces: A Show Struggling to Find Its Balance

A Show in Conflict with Itself

Life in Pieces

The second episode of Life in Pieces feels like a show already in conflict with itself, oscillating back and forth between hilarious relationship vignettes and schmaltzy family comedy throughout the entirety of “Interruptus Date Breast Movin’.” More importantly, however, Life in Pieces feels like a show stuck between creative ideas and network notes. There’s a certain safety to the second episode that’s a little unsettling, as well as an odd dedication to dropping exposition in wherever possible. Yes, there’s something to Life in Pieces, but it appears it may already be losing its sense of balance.

Struggling with Stereotypes and Conventions

The parts of the pilot that were the most intriguing were when Life in Pieces offered breaks from convention: a funeral party that was a birthday celebration, a first date where both people are a mess, parents who exhibit complete emotional honesty with each other. Where it ran into trouble is the same place this episode does: when Life in Pieces embraces its upper-class, white stereotypes, it becomes a much less engaging watch. “Interruptus” is full of these moments, opening with a montage basically dedicated to exposition (the “family therapy” session Joan initiates after Matt sees her and John having sex in the living room) and ending with a wildly uninspired take on the “too much crap on top of the family van” joke.

In those spaces, much more interesting stories could rest, yet “Interruptus” is stuck in that weird place between “pilot” and “series,” where everyone has to explicitly state their personality type and life desires. It’s the kind of overt material that really undersells a show like this, about how the flaws and shortcomings of family members are ultimately what brings them together. Watching Heather and Tim make jokes about ex-convicts trying to stay out of trouble is anything but funny, while I think everyone would agree that the “caught my elderly parents doing it” story isn’t really the most rewarding material, either. When “Interruptus” does find itself, it’s in the small moments: John and Matt pouring tequila in his engine to start his car, Matt and Colleen’s second date, or when Tyler panics over the single ADD pill he’s been hiding underneath his bed.

Expectations and Reality

It’s not fair to expect Life in Pieces to completely abandon the conventions of its genre (particularly the whole “lily-white cast” issue); but what Life isn’t doing is offering us anything beyond that, trying to shape itself as a reaffirming, broad comedy rather than something that challenges the way we think about family construction, and how to handle entering the next phase of your family’s life. With stories about new mothers, moving, and first dates with broken people, though, it’s not clear that “Interruptus” is interested in this idea, one conveyed in the pilot as one of the show’s defining factors. Instead, it’s spinning its wheels on bits of story we’ve seen a dozen times before. As funny as they can be, Colin Hanks and Zoe-Lister Jones have basically acted out every “We had a baby” plot scenario in the first two episodes, right down to the post-birth sex wait and the frustrations of not being an adequate milk delivery service – and by the same token, John and Joan’s relationship seems to be a pretty generic “old people who still like doing it” story, using up its signature punchline in its second episode as a story line.

Too ‘Networked’

“Interruptus” just feels too “networked.” There are so many bits of exposition, and so many moments where it feels like Life in Pieces is embracing the most broad, cliched bits it can, acting almost as a counterpoint to the first episode. “Interruptus” really strains to make itself relatable and familiar, and it ends up erasing any sense of personality Life in Pieces offered in the pilot (which in itself, was fairly limited). With a shift from Monday to Thursday halfway through the first season already stacking the deck against its ratings potential, it’s already going to be an uphill battle for Life in Pieces’ survival, and without some real creative kick, it will most certainly get lost in the shuffle between now and its move to Thursday in mid-November.

Other Thoughts and Observations

  • So if two of the segments are about one character, then this really isn’t four different, loosely connected stories, is it? The stories of this episode feel anything but related, and are all superficial enough to be forgotten by the time the next disconnected story begins.
  • What a terrible episode title – it kind of points out how shoved together all of these stories are.
  • Stephanie Weir and Rhys Darby are hilarious as the brother/sister breastfeeding consultants.
  • “My milk is what’s breast for her.”
  • Dianne West laughing at being a late-blooming porn star is the kind of stuff this show needs more of.
  • “If it was between ’98 and ’07, I have no idea.” “…Were you studying abroad?”

[Photo credit: Neil Jacobs/CBS]

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