“The Big Bang Theory” is one of the smartest comedies around, which begs the question why CBS keeps pairing it with big, broad, dumb ones. Aping a previous casualty of “Big Bang’s” orbit with an extra parent thrown in, “The Millers” might as well be titled “$#*! My Mom and Dad Say,” with Will Arnett dialing things down a notch as the set-upon son, largely because his parents — played by Margo Martindale and Beau Bridges, who deserve better — are such cartoonish caricatures. The show certainly moves into a prime piece of real estate; how long it stays could be another matter.
Arnett plays Nathan Miller, a local TV reporter (“Curb Your Enthusiasm’s” J.B. Smoove is his cameraman) who hasn’t been able to break the news to his parents that his marriage is over. Yet far from being crestfallen when he shows up to tell them in person, the folks seize upon Nathan’s example to declare how unhappy they’ve been after 43 years of marriage, and immediately split up themselves. Mom moves in with Nathan, and dad takes up residence with Nathan’s sister (“Glee’s” Jayma Mays, a post-pilot replacement).
What ensues in a premiere with a blue-chip pedigree — written by “My Name Is Earl’s” Greg Garcia and directed by James Burrows — can only be described as shrill and silly (although slightly toned down in the revised version), with an emphasis on physical gags and fart jokes.
There’s nothing wrong with that per se, and Martindale in particular certainly gives the low-brow material her all, from an elaborate dance number to an attempt to vomit up a sleeping pill. Some of the bits are also relatable, like the way Bridges’ character is completely inept when it comes to dealing with anything resembling a modern appliance.
As for Arnett, he’s actually more palatable here — in what amounts to much more of a straight-man role — than his last few sitcom outings, which have included fleeting stops on NBC (“Up All Night”) and Fox (“Running Wilde”) in addition to his recurring “30 Rock” gig.
Still, the initial reliance on cheap gags and shouting matches doesn’t leave much room to breathe, especially with all the flatulence wafting through the air.
Although “The Millers” faces weak sitcom competition on NBC, it also feels ill-suited to capitalize on its “Big Bang” adjacency, and depending on how much of that lead-in it yields, the show could become a drag on CBS’ expanded comedy block. Should that happen, Nathan and his newly liberated folks shouldn’t become too attached to their new digs.
There’s too much talent involved to write off “The Millers” completely, but it’s one of those pilots only a mother — or at least, close friends and family — could genuinely love.