Elsewhere, Betsy Brandt shows up as a worry-wart mom and James Brolin portrays the eccentric family patriarch. Even presented in limited stretches, most of the characters are defined well, especially for a 20-minute pilot, but they’re saddled with workaday sitcom problems that, while helping the show chug along at a nice clip, also dumps onto its already generic taste.
Brandt and Dan Bakkedahl’s mid-premiere, mid-life crises serve as two of the most fully realized bits in the pilot, with humorous escalation and some top-notch kid acting from Giselle Eisenberg. But although each story builds nicely and flows into the next without much awkward stuttering, the payoffs of each vary dramatically in the quality and laugh department, creating a pilot that’s simultaneously intriguing to watch but largely lifeless.
Maybe if the show’s creators (Justin Adler and Aaron Kaplan, who almost made a Say Anything series) had followed through with a fully-realized comedic anthology, there would be something more here. The constant need to have a link between each story and character not only feels familiar, but redundant, especially in an era when anthology series are resurging in popularity.
Even without that aspect, Life in Pieces would do well to distance itself from Modern Family comparisons as much as possible. But with a pilot that’s full of embarrassing parents, precocious children and a final scene that reunites the entire clan while one character narrates about something emotionally relevant to the story (life is just “pieces of time,” states patriarch John), the show’s writers don’t seem too keen to start anytime soon.
And that’s just too bad, because there’s undeniably a weird satisfaction in watching a show and getting four miniature character arcs per episode. Each story in the pilot is essentially a self-contained one-off that will no doubt be continued as the series itself progresses, but these stories also manage to have beginnings, middles and ends that provide somewhat satisfying closure to their four-or-five minute plora. There could be a fascinating consequence of the writer’s need to work so much into such tiny segments down the line, a febrile energy under pressure that grows as the series progresses, but for now the pilot at least presents three-out-of-four relative wins. Not a bad average to start out with, even if the stories here are more dramedy than outright comedy.
And that may be the biggest frustration of Life in Pieces: it’s far from bad, but it’s also even further from being remotely memorable. On the positive side, however, perhaps more than any other pilot I’ve reviewed so far this fall premiere season, the show has real room for growth. If the writers draw bolder distinctions between each story, perhaps separating its characters more and not feeling the need for them to see one another every single episode (let’s be honest, how many of us visit our entire extended family weekly?), there could be some really interesting emerging plotlines that come out of it all. But I’m not reviewing a hypothetical, unfortunately. So, for now, I have to say it like it is: there may be bits and pieces of Life in Pieces that you enjoy, but the generic, utterly expected whole it amounts to may not encourage you to stick around for more.
Life In Pieces is worth watching for the sheer ease with which its four stories fly by - but it's also a little bland, too zany for the sake of being zany and - most discouragingly - not very funny.