The hardy few introduced to Fred Goss’ improv skills through Bravo’s “Significant Others” will enjoy comparing that show to this watered-down version he and co-creator Nick Holly have brought to ABC — a half-hour firmly ensconced in the “witty” zone that seldom crosses all the way over into funny. Heavily promoted, this dysfunctional-family comedy has its moments but faces a daunting challenge trying to jumpstart a Tuesday lineup where “Commander in Chief” gradually lost support among the Nielsen electorate.
The subject matter is perhaps more accessible than “Significant Others,” which featured couples in therapy, but that earlier program yielded belly laughs whereas this one offers bemused smiles.
Goss plays Cameron, a harried Everyman residing in a neatly scrubbed suburban neighborhood. He’s surrounded by a maddening assortment of characters related in one way or another, with almost every gag hanging on the family’s inability to keep a secret and the domino effect that ensues.
It’s an amusing idea, but one that’s difficult to sustain, especially with each little slight and foul-up carrying over from one episode to the next. (ABC alleviates the problem slightly by playing two half-hours back to back, as NBC has been doing with “Scrubs.”)
Cameron has two children with Liz (Gillian Vigman), plus a teenage son by his first marriage. He also has a sister (Alison Quinn) and half-sister (Amanda Walsh) from his mom Colleen (Dee Wallace) and stepdad Wendal (Max Gail), who the kids are feting with a 25th anniversary party as the show opens.
Wendal confides to Cameron he’s thinking about leaving Colleen, a prospect Cameron of course blabs to his sister, causing the rumor to spread like wildfire.
Some variation of this plays out in all three episodes previewed, making this latest stab at “Curb Your Enthusiasm” chic feel considerably less fresh as the episodes pile up. That said, Goss is a gifted improv performer, and a few of the jokes are funny, such as the central couple’s toddler brightly announcing, “Hey grandma, we’re going to hell, ’cause we’re Jews!”
Blessed with Lorne Michaels’ imprimatur, “Sons & Daughters” does capture the peculiar way families interact, including a blackmail chain tied to a financial loan that culminates with everyone attending a wretched community theater production featuring Cameron’s brother-in-law, Don (Jerry Lambert).
Still, improv is a hit-miss proposition, and that sort of unevenness applies here. And while a few gems sneak into the rapid-fire exchanges (the half-sister expresses a penchant for “guys like Colin Farrell. Really classy.”), the general tone is one of drollness, which only goes so far in a network setting, as Fox can attest from “Arrested Development.”
As a footnote, “Sons” is produced by NBC’s production arm and will air opposite “Scrubs,” the NBC comedy produced by ABC’s sibling Touchstone TV. It’s all very incestuous and risks deteriorating into a case of murder-suicide, but hey, that’s how it goes sometimes with these blended families.