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Sons & Daughters: Anniversary Party / Bowling Night

by Joel Keller, posted Mar 8th 2006 8:43AM
Sons & DaughtersWell, well, well... looks like we have a contender here. ABC hasn't exactly been burning up the comedy world lately -- Crumbs had potential but stuck in a bad format, Emily's Reasons Why Not was stillborn, and Freddie was... Freddie -- but it looks like it's come up with a winner with the new semi-improvised sitcom Sons & Daughters. Heavily promoted during the NFL playoffs, the Super Bowl, and the Oscars, it was largely hung off the reputation of its most famous executive producer, Lorne Michaels. But this show is really the vision of creator/producer/writer Nick Holly and creator/producer/writer/star Fred Goss.

What they've created is a show that, with it's half-scripted and half-improvised dialogue, is amusing and at times laugh-out-loud funny. But it's also an unvarnished look at the dynamic of extended families that's at once silly and very believable.

Goss plays Cameron Walker, who has a blended family of his own; he and his second wife Liz (Gillian Vigman) have two young kids, but his son Henry (Trevor Einhorn... he played Freddie Crane on Frasier), who he had with his unseen ex, feels a bit alienated. He puts on makeup and wigs and rocks out in his room, and barely hides his contempt for his new family behind pranks he films for the Internet (after one prank, where he puts eggs in Cameron's and Liz' bed, Cameron runs after his son, egg all over him, yelling "That's not art! That's not art!").

Meanwhile, Cameron's sister Sharon Fenton (Alison Quinn) is stuck in a sexless marriage with her husband Don (Jerry Fenton... you may remember him from some funny GEICO commercials). They have two kids... the brutally honest pretty boy Jeff (Randy Wayne) and the wise(ass)-beyond-her-years teen Carrie (Eden Sher). Carrie is pretty brutal; for instance, when Sharon tries to explain to Carrie how fulfilling married life is even if there's no sex, Carrie just deadpans, "No offense, mom, but I'd rather kill myself then be in a relationship where sex isn't the number one thing." Ah, the kids these days...

Cameron's half-sister Jenna (Amanda Walsh) lives with her young son -- who she had with bad-boy Whitey (Greg Pitts -- the "O-face guy" from Office Space) -- and Cameron's mom and stepdad (who turns out is Jenna's real dad). Jenna's coffee-shop boss Wylie (Desmond Harrington) likes her but she doesn't think he's her type: he's way too nice, you see.

The main push of the first two episodes of the series is how Cameron finds out from his stepdad Wendal Halbert (Max Gail... that's right, folks, Wojo's back on TV!) that he might leave Cameron's mom Colleen (Dee Wallace of E.T. fame, looking far too young to have middle-aged kids) right before their 25th anniversary, for which Cameron is throwing a party. Cameron tells Sharon, and Carrie overhears, sending the news spreading throughout the family. Wendal recants at the party, but Colleen -- who is as ball-crushing to her kids as she is to her husband -- finds out in episode two, where racist and doddering Aunt Rae (Lois Hall) spills the beans. During a "let's cover up all the family problems with fun!" bowling night, all the tension explodes as Colleen reveals what she knows and banishes Wendal to his van.

Whew, that's a lot to swallow. But for some reason, keeping track of all these family members was fairly easy to do. At the beginning of each episode the characters and their relation to Cameron are introduced by brief on-screen captions, just so everyone remembers who's who. Because of the improvisational scenes, some of the dialogue is either muttered or spoken by characters simultaneously, making some lines hard to pick up, but those scenes do stick out as being the more natural-sounding of the bunch.

Some of the throwaway lines are hilarious though: when the Fentons try to have sex in the bowling night episode, it doesn't go well and Sharon voices her displeasure. Don shoots back with "Well, with you, it's like throwing a wrench in a closet... no offense." The "wrench in a closet" line was funny (even though it was overplayed in the ads), but the "no offense" tag was just as effective, because what he just told his wife couldn't be taken as anything but offensive.

There were other funny moments: Aunt Rae getting a marker-drawn Hitler moustache at the party, a few hours after she told Liz' daughter that she was going to hell because she and Liz were Jewish... Carrie telling her grandfather, "Cut the crap, Wendal... what's going on? You've got someone on the side?"... Wendal and Cameron talking about being henpecked by using bird names as "code" in front of Cameron's young son... there were others, but this review's getting long.

Carrie's going to be the breakout character on this show. She's the typical jaded teenage character, but with an edge that I usually don't see. She may talk like an adult, but there is a certain teenageness about her (the thick glasses, the braces) that belies her smarts. Let's just hope she doesn't get a catchphrase or signature eye-roll or something like that.

Sons & Daughters has made a very promising start. It's funny, but not as jam-packed with jokes as Arrested Development, the show to which it is inevitably going to be compared. But that's OK; while the Bluths in AD may exhibit the evil side of being a family, S&D shows the good as well as the nasty. As the Walkers, Fentons, and Halberts get into different situations and grow as characters, I'm sure we'll be seeing a lot more of both.

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I noticed at least two instances where they had obviously edited multiple takes together or looped dialogue. One where the Sharon and Don are fighting on the lawn and their kids get out of the car and you see in quick succession their son take his headphones out from different angles. And another when we cut to another angle and you could hear cameron still talking but his mouth weren't moving.

March 10 2006 at 3:22 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

The show is great!!! Loved not listing to a laugh track. Can't wait till upcoming episodes!!

March 09 2006 at 4:00 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
carrie b

i enjoyed last night's show; no more looking to "leave it to beaver" for a realistic, inside look at a typical american family.

too bad it's not appropriate for young viewers despite its early time slot. but hey that's a rule from the old school-style television anyway so what's that about anyway?

now, this family is...achievable...to just about anyone. seriously, i liked the show for its comedy, character portrayal, storyline.

the only character i found improbable was the 13 year old. waaaaaay too much cheek. she was more enlightened and a lot more vocal about her enlightened state than most 13 year olds.

what i saw last night was an unidealized,almost real-life depiction of an american family where love prevails and conquers all, no matter how painful, angry, and ugly things really DO get and which is the stuff that makes up a lot of life's commonest experiences.

March 08 2006 at 8:47 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

While I found the show funny at many times, it's bascially a rip off of another show Fred Goss starred in - Significant Others - which ran on Bravo network. Right down the the swoosh sound during the transition to another locale and the titles that inroduce the characters. Significant Others has the same scripted/improvised approach, but featured a number of couples in various stages of relationships.

March 08 2006 at 2:56 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I enjoyed it...it seems like it could set up to be sweeter than AD, though maybe not as good for laughs overall.

March 08 2006 at 11:24 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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