My column for Women and Hollywood this week is on Trophy Wife, the wonderfully winning new ABC sitcom with a terrible title and a worrisome-sounding premise, about a party girl named Kate (Malin Akerman), who becomes the woefully unprepared third wife of Pete (Bradley Whitford) and finds herself getting a crash course in step-parenting from his previous spouses, Diane (Marcia Gay Harden) and Jackie (Michaela Watkins). I wrote the column before we learned that we’d only be getting two more episodes of Parks and Recreation this year, but one of the arguments I made in favor of it was one of the same reasons I love Parks and Rec so much–that when people of good will end up in competition with each other, everyone gets to win.
As I explained:
That the kids on Trophy Wife seem like real people heightens the stakes of the storytelling and the conflict between parenting styles. In one storyline, for example, Kate gets fed up with the way Jackie and Pete humor Bert’s bedtime rituals–“Your water is here. Mr. Bear’s water is here. Your clothes are laid out for the entire week, no judgment,” Pete tells his youngest son. She’s probably right that they’ve overdone it, but after Bert wears her down, Kate ends up giving in even further, letting the little boy stay up, watch truly terrifying television, and the next day, scarfing down her coffee before a soccer game. A little ritual, as it turns out, tends to go an extremely long way towards forging a manageable compromise that lets Bert fall asleep and the adults sneak out to watch Magic Mike. Kate learns that investing a little bit of quality time with her most demanding step-child turns out to be a way to earn more quiet with her husband. Jackie might seem like a flake and a pushover, but the approach she designed with Pete had a method in its indulgence of Bert’s flights of fancies. And because Bert is a genuinely engaging little boy, you can see why Kate feels so badly for having mismanaged his bedtime. It’s not just that she wants to show Jackie she can be responsible. Kate feels bad for having scared, underslept, and overcaffeinated her son.
Trophy Wife also has the distinction of being one of the only new comedies this fall that has actual jokes in it. And it shares its commitment to funny with the other show that, if you’ve been DVRing or otherwise backburnering it, I’d recommend as a balm for your 30 Rock-starved heart, Brooklyn Nine-Nine.
It makes sense that Brooklyn Nine-Nine would share DNA with Parks and Recreation, given that Michael Schur created both shows. And like its good-government predecessor, Brooklyn Nine-Nine has taken a while to calibrate itself. Where Leslie Knope was incompetent and disrespected in Parks first season, Andy Samberg’s Jake Peralta, perhaps befitting his gender, has overcorrected in the other direction, coming across as gratingly brash and enamored of his own wit and talent. It’s a characteristic that culminated in an unfortunate series of fat jokes in a recent episode, blunted only slightly by the fact that the corpse in question turned out to be a notorious lothario. And it’s made it hard to understand why anyone in his precinct tolerates him or would be willing to work with him.
But just as Parks and Recreation is often at its best when its characters are drunk, Brooklyn Nine-Nine seems to have some found some magic in a bottle. When it got its characters tipsy and angry at an interloping detective, Jake, his rival, Amy Santiago (Melissa Fumero), and their colleagues Rosa Diaz (Stephanie Beatriz, channeling the kinky sexuality of April Ludgate) and Charles Boyle (Joe Lo Truglio, who is making off with the show under Samberg’s nose) came together for some cock-eyed role play and a trip down a garbage chute to solve a murder. In the other half of the show, Andre Braugher’s Captain Ray Holt was luring Sgt. Terry Jeffords (Terry Crews), a gun-shy squad leader, to a gun range under false pretenses, where Holt and Administrator Gina Linetti (Chelsea Peretti) provoked him into firing the shots he needed to get recertified to carry a weapon and return to active duty.
In other words, it was an episode where all the characters came together out of genuine affinity or collective interest, and where even their worst behavior and qualities were aimed at producing better results for everyone. The episode was finally Brooklyn Nine-Nine using all the tools in its arsenal, from Lo Truglio’s ability to deliver perfectly deadpan crazy, to Beatriz and Peretti’s louche, nutty sexuality, to Fumero’s primness. If the show can find a way to keep using its resources, and can remember that niceness can often be funnier, and more surprising than easy meanness, it’ll deserve the same kind of cult status that has given Parks and Recreation its longevity. And while nothing may fill the Leslie-Knope-shaped hole in our hearts, both Trophy Wife and Brooklyn Nine-Nine are opportunities for us to try to turn out and vote with our remotes for television that’s sweet and smart.