Like many viewers, I’m still smarting from the demise of Arrested Development. Which means that Sons & Daughters, ABC’s new “wacky family” show can’t help but suffer from comparisons. Those who enjoy Sons & Daughters enjoyed Arrested Development more, and the same viewers put off by the latter’s off-the-wall humor will also be put off the new show.
Co-creator Fred Goss stars as Cameron, a middle-aged father on his second marriage, serving as confidante both to his siblings and his parents. The first episode, “Anniversary Party,” centers on a celebration for his parents (Max Gail and Dee Wallace). During preparations, his father confesses that he wants a divorce. Meanwhile, his sister Sharon (Alison Quinn) tells Cameron that she and her husband Don (Jerry Lambert) are trapped in a sexless marriage. Cameron plays straight man, trying to keep his gossiping family under control, while jeering at them from the sidelines.
Cameron has his own problems, though in these first two episodes, they’re relegated to a back burner. His preteen son Henry (Trevor Einhorn) is still upset about his parents’ divorce and his father’s remarriage. A subplot that involves Henry inviting his mother to the party remains only vaguely linked to Cameron’s concerns.
His sister and her kids, Carrie (Eden Sher) and Jeff (Randy Wayne), however, are a bright spot. Sharon is blunt and neurotic, believably uncomfortable in her own skin. At 13, Carrie is already developing similar concerns and coping mechanisms: cursed with a mouthful of braces, she’s sassy and inquisitive, providing some of the precious few funny moments. When Sharon expresses shock that her daughter knows about her sexual problems, Carrie asserts, “I’d rather kill myself than be in a relationship where sex isn’t the most important thing.”
Jeff and Henry find their own forms of escape and payback, playing amateur webmasters who record family bloopers for public display. It’s a funny concept and improvement on the adult-focused sequences, which include punch lines using words like “woody.” The sex jokes run the gamut from lame to disturbing. Don, for instance, describes sex with Sharon as “like tossing a wrench in a closet!” I would blame the writers for these pitiful one-liners, but Sons & Daughters is billed as a “partially improvised comedy.” While it’s unclear which parts are scripted, most of the dialogue sounds made up on the spot.
Some of the more polished scenes involve fathers and sons (this in a show titled Sons & Daughters). “Bowling Night,” the second episode, features a heart-to-heart between Cameron and his dad, recalling Arrested Development‘s interest in Michael and George Michael. Though it’s an admirable effort, Cameron is too shrill and his father too stereotypically “wise.” I couldn’t tell whether it was supposed to be funny or touching, and it was neither.