Leave it to TLC. The channel has managed to produce a first “loosely scripted” series that not only doesn’t credit writers but looks every bit as inexpensive — and feels even less scripted — than many of its heavily staged reality shows. Actually, “Surviving the In-Laws” is a pretty good and certainly relatable idea, playing off real, personal accounts about annoying relatives. Yet this attempt to delicately bridge the gap between fact and fiction by wedding somewhat embellished stories to fictionalized depictions is so haphazardly put together and thinly drawn, it’s tough to bless the marriage.
Each half-hour episode consists of two stories, which doesn’t provide much time to develop either of them. The couples are actors, improvising based on anecdotes and accounts from real people, sitting side-by-side on a couch delivering reality-style direct-to-camera testimonials about problems with their in-laws. The gripes range from being awful babysitters to intruding on their lives to moving in during a remodel and never leaving.
Seeking to further illustrate the stories without breaking the conceit, much of the footage is supposed to be home movies, capturing the relatives behaving badly in grainy, hand-held fashion. But it’s a difficult approach to sustain, and with the exception of one among the four previewed chapters — grandparents caught letting a young kid run amok — the device doesn’t really work.
Nor does it help that the program uses sitcom-style musical cues throughout that are reminiscent of moments in “Desperate Housewives” when Teri Hatcher wound up naked or experienced some kind of pratfall. OK, we get it, the goal is to be whimsical.
For the most part, the actors chosen do a reasonably laudable job of looking real, but there are also pregnant pauses and exaggerated reaction shots where they hit the inaudible rim shots a bit too hard.
It’s not far-fetched to see this attracting a survive-able audience, and TLC deserves mild applause for stretching the parameters of its carnival-sideshow comfort zone. And in another plus, unlike some TLC shows, no Amish or rednecks were harmed in the making of this series.
That said, “Surviving the In-Laws” is a bit like a visit from irritating relatives. Yes, you can get through it, but you’re also sort of relieved when it’s over.