The WB has created the love child of “Friends” and “Sex and the City” — no surprise considering talent from both series are behind it. While this one-hour comedy drama doesn’t have that kind of instant karma, there’s plenty of chemistry at work with the matriarchal Sorelli family. “Related” is one of the few WB shows that doesn’t feature abnormally articulate teenagers, scantily clad cheerleaders or supernatural superheroes. But pairing this clever, adult-skewing show with teen sensation “One Tree Hill” seems like a recipe for disaster.
Like “Sisters” a decade ago, “Related” is firmly entrenched in the absurdities and complexities of romantic relationships as well as the family dynamics of the four sisters who make up the Sorellis of NYC.
As common with pilots, much is packed into one hour, but director James Frawley tempers any hints of desperation with chick-flick appeal by striking the right balance between humor and sentiment, eliciting nice performances from his actors.
Birth order comes heavily into play, and writer Liz Tuccillo (“Sex and the City”) works around tired cliches by utilizing the individual strengths of an extremely appealing cast. Pilot establishes careers, family and relationships around a rather ordinary plot about the surprise engagement of their widowed father (Tom Irwin) and his new girlfriend, Renee (played by the wonderful Christine Ebersole).
None of the sisters is that crazy about Renee, a preternaturally perky busybody, but the demure Rose points out their dad’s newfound happiness. The dutiful Ann suggests a party. The rogue Marjee wants to poison Renee at said party. Either way, the practical Ginnie notes, they’ll need a reservation.
As Ginnie, Jennifer Esposito forgoes the alpha female complex common among eldest sibs in favor of a loving, motherly tone. She’s still a control freak, with her endless phone chains and business meetings — but it’s a kinder, gentler style. Her manicured lifestyle is challenged daily by her “man/child” husband Bob (Callum Blue), a wry and goofy music software engineer who goes into minor shock when he finds out Ginnie is pregnant.
Where Ginnie is more emotional, second in line Ann (Kiele Sanchez), a therapist, is far more controlled. Her excessively clinical demeanor has, over time, driven a wedge between her and longtime boyfriend Danny (Dan Futterman), which is only exacerbated when the engagement party is switched to his new, untested restaurant.
Lizzy Caplan as Marjee is the acerbic and headstrong sister who tends to barrel through life. A funky Kate Winslet type, she’s the one sister who speaks her mind the most — often at great expense. An event planner who has just been evicted from her apartment, she reluctantly decides to moves back home with dad and Renee.
Resentful of always being last on the phone chain, Rose (Laura Breckenridge), the youngest, works overtime to establish her own identity. Her abrupt switch in majors at NYU from pre-med to experimental theater sends shock waves through the family, as does her new hairstyle.
Earlier renditions of the show featured Laura San Giacomo in the role of Ann, but Sanchez blends well with rest of the cast, especially in future episodes as the post breakup ramifications set in. Esposito is an inspired choice as Ginnie, and her charisma is a big draw here, while Breckenridge channels what seems like a younger, sassier Shannen Doherty on Prozac.
Production quality, however, is a tad sterile. Exec producer Marta Kauffman’s little personal touches are missing. Perhaps she doesn’t identify with any of the Sorelli sisters as much as she did with Monica on Friends. As such, the show lacks a distinct NYC feel despite plenty of stock footage.