Nana, Hannah, Happy Accident… ABC 2019 comedy pilots ranked from best to worst

It was bound to happen sooner or later and this time is now: the “ABC Funny” brand of single-camera family-oriented comedies is going through a rough patch after years of success and may be heading towards a slow death. It took form back in 2009, when both critically-acclaimed Modern Family and dearly beloved The Middle started. They were joined over the years by other strong and more modest performers such as The Goldbergs, Fresh Off The Boat, Blackish and American Housewife. Every single time they tried to deviate from the formula (Trophy Wife, The Real O’Neals) or totally go into other directions (Happy Endings, Don’t Trust the Bitch, Selfie, The Mayor), they got slapped in the face with terrible ratings. Most of those shows were pretty good by the way, with the exception of some iconic failures like Work It and Super Fun Night.

Now that everything has been made, from 70s, 80s and 90s settings to big pushes on diversity, the audience seems to be tired of them. The Middle is gone, Modern Family is about to go. New entries Single Parents and The Kids are Alright started well before settling down at disappoiting levels, while the sophomore season of unowned Splitting Up Together is nothing to rave about. It leaves the network with a huge comedy problem and one decent hit, The Conners, even though it lost steam compared to mothership Roseanne. ABC may think the answer is in the multicamera genre, that they tried to revive occasionnally, with Last Man Standing (cancelled and now on FOX) and Cristela among others. From the nine pilots ordered, one has already been passed on –The Middle spin-off Sue Sue In The City, which was probably not on-brand- one is a second spin-off from modest performer Blackish, similar to Young Sheldon centered around Young Bow, 4 are single cams and 3 are multicams. The number of comedy ordered in may will depend on ABC’s decision about reducing or not their comedy slots. They may very well only take one of each. But one thing’s for sure: they had a weak development season in that department… Which leads to our ranking based on the scripts.

 

SINGLE CAMERA COMEDIES

 

 

  1. HAPPY ACCIDENT (20th Century FOX Television & ABC Studios)

Around two Pittsburgh families — a father (Matt Walsh) with three adult daughters (JoAnna Garcia Swisher, Kether Donohue, Jessie Pinnick), and a hotel lounge singer (Vanessa Williams) with her med student son (Elliot Knight) — who are forced together after a decades-old secret is revealed… 

Ordered off-cycle, Happy Accident might very well be ABC’s last chance to capitalize on Modern Family‘s lead-in to launch a new family comedy with potential. I wouldn’t consider this script as a no-brainer -the whole story is very predictable and it’s not laugh-out-loud funny- but it’s actually not bad at all with a few sweet moments and good dialogues. It’s more adult-oriented -there’s only one kid in there- than ABC’s usual fare and it may be a good thing though it makes it a harder fit with the last comedies standing. It’s very diverse, blending a white traditional family with a more excentric black one, and it includes a gay son and a tomboy daughter. The cast is really great and that’s what could save it from being mediocre. Vanessa Williams will go back to what she does best: being a queen diva. Veep‘s Matt Walsh is a nice get for ABC. Joanna Garcia is a show killer but a nice gal we’re always happy to watch. And You’re The Worst‘s revelation Kether Donohue -that I consider as the new Megan Mullally- could become the main attraction. So unless Happy Accident tests poorly, I can totally see it on the schedule next year. Becoming a hit though is a whole other story…

 

2. UNTITLED JESSICA GAO PROJECT (ABC Studios, CBS Television Studios & Imagine Television)

about Janet Zhao (Holly Chou), a first generation Chinese-American woman who struggles to set healthy boundaries with her crazy, exhausting family. When her wealthy grandmother dies and names Janet the sole inheritor, she suddenly finds herself the unwilling new matriarch of the family she’s spent her life trying to keep at arm’s length…

Originally known as “Lazy Rich Asians'”, this comedy pilot written by Jessica Gao, who worked on Silicon Valley and who won an Emmy for writing “Pickle Rick,” a standout episode of Rick and Morty that aired in 2017, totally and confidently surf on summer 2018 box-office smash Crazy Rich Asians. The plot is very similar though the genre is different since it’s more of a family comedy than a romcom. It’s fresh, funny, sometimes moving, and it sounds like something that comes from a place of respect and love for a community without being cheesy. Fresh Off the Boat became the first Asian family comedy in the U.S. in more that two decades. It would be nice to get a second one now, not in two more decades…

 

3. HANNAH (ABC Studios)

The story of Hannah (Hannah Simone) and her Indian-American immigrant father. They always have been close, but after she admits to herself that she’s in a dead-end job and he reveals his marriage is over, they’re starting over together and each finding a new path. This new chapter will either make them crazy close — or just crazy…

I have nothing against Hannah Simone, really, but I’m not sure why ABC is so eager to give her a starring vehicle. Last year’s The Greatest American Hero female reboot she was on was definitely not a good fit with the network and it made total sense to pass on itn whatever the result may have been. This one is said to be semi-autobiographical and ABC loves that. It’s a weird and not entirely effective mix between a family single-cam and a romantic/girly comedy that is not designed for a large audience. The daughter/father relationship dynamics is cute, but the rest is weak. It would be great to have a nontraditional Indian family at the center of a show, it has not been made yet, but this one is not THE one, sorry.

 

4. WOMAN UP (20th Century FOX Television)

about two former teen moms (Mary-Elizabeth Ellis & Tawny Newsome) who have worked their asses off to see their daughters all the way through high school graduation; and now, at 35, they’re ready to make up for the youth they never had…

Damn ABC. You’re supposed to do better than this! First, why is this a single-cam? It would have worked better as a multicam in the vein of 2 Broke Girls and Mom. Okay, ABC is not CBS and they probably couldn’t have found the right slot for it but why ordering it in the first placee? It barely works as a single-cam, but it has its moments. This is not a straight family comedy, though there are strong family elements, and those single mothers-teenage daughters relationships are not as innovative as they want to be. Nobody remembers FOX’s one-season-and-done I Hate my Teenage Daughter, but it’s the same concept. They had other very similar pilots in the past and with better scripts, like last year Most Likely To. Maybe it would have had a chance with a better cast but it’s a really weak one, with no recognizable faces. They have better options!


MULTICAMERA COMEDIES

 

 

  1. NANA (20th Century FOX Television & ABC Studios)

After the death of his wife, an obsessive, overprotective dad (Josh Lawson) is forced to invite his brash and bawdy mother-in-law (Katey Sagal) into his home to help raise the two granddaughters she barely knows…

Loved Nana! Made me think a bit of One Day At A Time, shamelessly cancelled by Netflix just a few days ago. It’s both (very) funny and emotional, though it’s less diverse. It’s set in Minneapolis and it’s not about a wealthy family but about midwestern americans having real problems. It’s easy to imagine it paired with The Conners. It’s the best option they have in that regard, with a central character that is different from Roseanne but who still could be compared to her because she’s an irreverent and noisy woman with lots of love to give… but in her own way. It’s so easy to close your eyes and imagine Katey Sagal knocking the part out of the park. She’s perfect for this. It would be a nice addition to ABC’s line up and it could help them expand the multicam genre. It’s not original or anything, it’s just good. And sometimes that’s just what we ask for.

 

2. UNITED WE FALL (Sony Pictures Television)

Based on writer Julius Sharpe’s life, the parents (Will Sasso & Christina Vidal) of two young kids struggle to achieve the ordinary. When two people with young children and overzealous extended families truly love each other, barely anything is possible, even with an extremely judgmental mother (Jane Curtin) at home….

The writing here is strong. Some lines and situations really made me laugh out loud, it’s a bit more racy than ABC’s usual comedies, more realistic too, and with the right chemistry it could be a really enjoyable sitcom. The problem with United We Fall is that there’s no hook. What’s different? Seems like a sitcom from 15 years ago, except it’s multicultural! It might do the trick behind The Conners, but Nana has a slight advantage because of Katey Sagal and a more modern feel. Then again, the writing is top-notch.

3. PASTORIZED (ABC Studios)

Leslie and Hope (Leslie Odom Jr & Kelly Jenrette) are joint pastors at a young, hip, diverse church in Los Angeles. Through their services, online streams and books they are experts at uniting people across different races, genders, orientations and opinions. But when it comes to uniting the people in their blended family, they are way out of their comfort zone and as a result, the teachers often find themselves the pupils…

This one is a clear disappointment. The concept seemed cool and modern based on the pitch, and in some ways it is. But the jokes will only make you smile, best case scenario. There’s a B story with the kids that is really uninteresting and too weak for a pilot. And well, it doesn’t fit with The Conners. It would have been great for TV Land, when the channel still had original sitcoms on its roster. On ABC, it’s a huge pass.

 

 

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