In superficial terms, not much unites the shaggy group at the center of “Single Parents.” Angie (Leighton Meester) is a stressed out paralegal; Douglas (Brad Garrett) is a surly country club Republican; Poppy (Kimrie Lewis) is a frank sommelier; Miggy (Jake Choi) is a 20-year-old probable DJ. But by the time Will (Taran Killam) and his daughter join their school district, they’ve formed a single parent supergroup forged by their shared bonds of frustration and exhaustion. With heavy disdain for the chipper couples surrounding them, they share babysitting duties and horror stories with each other to keep themselves sane and upright as best they can.
The pilot of “Single Parents” — written by “New Girl’s” Liz Meriwether and J.J. Philbin — doesn’t try too hard to justify their friendship beyond that, which can be a little disorienting with so many disparate characters to juggle. It’s hard not to wonder, for instance, how Miggy met everyone since he has a baby while the others all have toddlers in the same school, or why they’re willing to put up with Douglas (never “Doug”) when he gets locked into a “back in my day, men were men” line of grumbling, with punchlines too caustic to be clever. As Poppy, Lewis can be a great wry foil for Garrett, but doesn’t have enough material of her own, at least in the first episode, to make a distinct impression. And though Will is supposed to be “the mush” to everyone else’s jaded fatigue, Killam ramps his whining slapstick into such overdrive that Will’s naiveté can be harder to watch — for his new friends and audience alike — than even the script dictates.
But when push comes to shove, I’d much rather watch a comedy pilot that doesn’t try to answer everything all at once than one overflowing with exposition. If “Single Parents” gets a fair shake, there will be time to look back at how the group came together in order to understand what their deal is now. What the show does right in its outset is give us a sense of what’s to come, as the single parent group (reluctantly) adopts Will as one of their own. While Killam is ostensibly the lead, “Single Parents” teases a promising ensemble comedy that follows its own premise by giving everyone a chance to shine. Meester especially steps up to the plate, showing off the sharp comic timing that she’s brought to more dramatic roles throughout her career.
And even when “Single Parents” stumbles, it’s refreshing to see a comedy that acknowledges a different experience than most hangout sitcoms do. These characters are neither the dating singletons nor settled families that tend to define comedies, but floating somewhere in between. There’s plenty of material there; hopefully, with a strong cast and writing team behind it, “Single Parents” can tap into it and find a specific groove all its own.
Comedy, 30 mins. Premieres Wednesday, Sept. 26 at 9:30 p.m. on ABC.
Cast: Taran Killam, Leighton Meester, Kimrie Lewis, Jake Choi, Marlow Barkley, Tyler Wladis, Devin Trey, Mia Allan, Ella Allan, Brad Garrett.
Crew: Executive producers: J.J. Philbin, Liz Meriwether, Katherine Pope, Erin O’Malley, Jason Winer.