A Family To Come Home To: Review of 'Fam' CBS
So... somehow I didn't get the memo that CBS' new comedy Fam (2019) premiered January 10 (my bad, fam), and that tonight's episode was actually episode two. But, either way, I thoroughly enjoyed the new half-hour comedy!
Fam follows Clem (Nina Dobrev), event planner for the Metropolitan Museum of Art, on her recent engagement to Nick (Tone Bell), Associate Professor of World Literature at NYU, in what appears to be her perfect, cookie-cutter life, until her 16-year-old "out of control" half-sister Shannon (Odessa Adlon) reappears (literally in Clem's and Nick's apartment).
Both Variety and The Hollywood Reporter have compared Fam's plot to that of The WB's What I Like About You (2002), which tells the story of older and well-put together sister Valerie (Jennie Garth) whose life is "turned upside down" when her teenaged sister Holly (Amanda Bynes) comes to live with her, after their father is transferred to Japan.
THR also compares the CBS comedy to its cohorts, both past and present. Past being 9JKL (which I miss, btw), comparing Nick's relationship with his parents Rose and Walt, played by Sheryl Lee Ralph and Brian Stokes Mitchell, respectively, to that of Josh's (Mark Feuerstein) relationship with his parents, Harry and Judy, played by Elliott Gould and Linda Lavin, respectively. And present being: The Neighborhood (2018), which, according to THR, "remains a frustrating mix of splendid cast chemistry and hacky, sub-All in the Family social comedy", and Happy Together (2018), whose "plot is flimsy" (THR).
However, I disagree.
Tonight's episode of Fam entitled, "Freddy Returns", focuses on the estranged relationship between Clem and her homicide detective father Freddy (Gary Cole), whom she tells Nick is dead.
Rose is obsessed with disseminating Save-the-Dates (which she obliviously refers to as "STDs"), and notices that Clem has not included her father on the guest list. This prompts Clem to reveal a not-so-pleasant father-daughter relationship (or a lack thereof). However, as the show's name suggests, Rose insists that Clem invite her father over for dinner the following evening because "nothing is more important than family".
To Clem's surprise, not only does her father accept the dinner invite, but he also shows up on time and is oddly charming. But, knowing her dad, Clem suspects that he is up to no good, which is in complete contrast to Shannon who geniunely believes that their father may have turned a new leaf.
As predicted, Clem realizes the scheme her father is up to, after Walt reveals that he donated money to Freddy's charity "Poor Child Eats" (which is actually the name of the horse Freddy placed a bet on the day Clem invited him to the family dinner).
Tensions flare between Clem and her father, as she confronts him at the race track, telling him that he is the most awful human being ever and was the worst father to her. However, this exchange becomes less of a "stick it to him" moment for Clem, and more of an insight into her father's "method to his madness" as a non-interactive parent. According to Freddy, rather than "half-assing", he deliberately "zero-assed" parenting Clem, because he knew she would "either sink or swim" and learn to take care of herself, to which he points out she has done a great job.
During their discussion, their race horse seems to be in the lead and ultimately wins, prompting Clem and Freddy to both jump for joy and share a hug, which leads to an instant of remembrance of some happy moments they once shared.
After apologizing to Rose and Walt, Clem remembers Rose's advice about learning to accept her father for who he is, with promos of future episodes showing Freddy being more present in his daughters' lives.
While the comparison between Fam's plot and the plot for What I Like About You may be similar, what is not similar is Nick's relationship with his parents compared to Josh's relationship with his. Although it might seem like Nick's parents are always one minute away from stopping by, it doesn't compare to Josh's parents who literally live in the apartment across the hallway. Also, Nick, unlike Josh, is able to have a steady and healthy relationship with Clem without having his mom meddle and deliberately (and ultimately) ruin every connection he makes (or tries to) with a woman.
Further, being a "sub-All in the Family social comedy" is not necessarily a bad thing, even though I don't think that's what The Neighborhood is. In fact, CBS has done something special with The Neighborhood, Happy Together and Fam: illustrate harmonious interracial relationships.
What's more, is that both sources agree that the jokes on all three CBS shows fall flat and are basically doing a disservice to such veteran actors who make up three star-studded casts; specifically suggesting that Fam allow more opportunities for Rose/Ralph, Walt/Mitchell and Freddy/Cole to sing. I'm sure the writers and directors will eventually weave the actors' talents into an episode or two, when the storyline calls for it.
Personally, I love Fam's storyline and ensemble. I may be biased, but I will literally watch anything that Gary Cole is in -- his comedic timing is genius and he is the DEFINITION of suave! But, I'm also rooting for Tone Bell, who has starred in, what I thought, were really funny sitcoms that did not deserve the boot so prematurely. NBC's Whitney (2011), Bad Judge (2014), (my favourite) Truth Be Told (2015), and Netflix series Disjointed (2018), were all blessed with Bell's talent. What appears to have not been the most favourable results with NBC, will now be, hopefully, with CBS, amd take Bell (and his cast) exactly where he ought to be!
Cast: Nina Dobrev, Tone Bell, Odessa Adlon, Sheryl Lee Ralph, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Gary Cole
Created by: Corinne Kingsbury
Airs: Thursdays, 9:30p.m. EST (CBS)