Marriage is a Struggle

They bumped up last week’s episode of How to Stay Married to an earlier timeslot without telling us so we had to wait until yesterday’s repeat to get caught up because TV is free but bandwidth costs and Peter Helliar’s latest effort isn’t really something we want to think about spending money on. Was it worth the wait?

To be fair, it has been improving (a little) since the disastrous first episode. Don’t get too excited: we’re still firmly in “damming with faint praise” territory here. Last night’s episode split things in two, as over-excited basketball coach Greg (Helliar) tried to push his clearly un-interested daughter into sports while wife Em (Lisa McCune) had to deal with a children’s author turned elderly sleaze at her publishing job. Oh, and their youngest daughter got so much change out of a vending machine she became a playground queen paying people in gold coins to do her bidding.

Now that this has settled down a bit it’s a little easier to see what it’s going for, which at least makes it easier to figure out why it’s not as funny as it should be. On the plus side, the characters now play to the actors’ strengths, with Helliar actually engaged in his role as a sports-mad dickhead (*cough typcasting cough*) and Em’s workplace dramas playing to McCune’s comedy strengths, which mostly seem to involve giving off a vague sense of befuddlement.

But while How to Stay Married now “works” as far as the character dynamics are concerned – Greg is excited about being a stay-at-home parent but doesn’t know what he’s doing, Em is glad to be back at work but is discovering she has to actually do work – that doesn’t make those dynamics funny or entertaining.

Greg’s story hinges on him not spotting a fairly basic fact about his going-through-puberty daughter, which “works” as a character moment but isn’t particularly funny or insightful unless it’s 1983 at your house, while Em’s story is just “he wrote kids books but now he’s all about teh sex” which again isn’t exactly gut-busting comedy material as presented here.

If this was Outnumbered then perhaps having the littlest kid’s subplot as the comedy highpoint would be a good thing, but here it feels more like the result of everything else failing to work than something resulting from solid comedy planning. And if the idea is to push the more out-there flights of fancy onto the kids’ subplots (plus Darren Gilshenan, who barely registers as Helliar’s wacky coaching sidekick) then perhaps Helliar needs to sit down and think about what his actual strengths are as a writer.

This is a sitcom where the situation works because it’s about as generic a situation as you can get, and everything after that struggles. Helliar as a bungling but enthusiastic dad is a minor supporting character at best and in any other show he’d have been sidelined by now, while McCune is the kind of bland leading lady who needs at least one and preferably three wackier friends to do the actually funny stuff while she occasionally says something like “what is the deal with airline food?”

How to Stay Married seems like the kind of show that would appeal to actual struggling parents if you were a network executive who let their au pair raise their kids, because last time we checked struggling parents simply didn’t have the time to waste on sitcoms that went for being “relatable” over being funny. In fact, just about every kind of audience we can think of would much rather watch a sitcom that was funny over a show like this where the point seems to be reminding viewers that bungling dads mean well.

If Helliar really did mean well he’d have never made this show in the first place.

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  • Bernard says:

    Did you catch the line of dialogue with the word ‘fucken’ in the last scene? Not sure how that got past the network censors in what is supposed to be a PG show. Anyway, is this really the best sitcom this country can come up with? It will probably get renewed because it was *slightly* less shitty than all the other shitty comedies this year.