Unconventional families are as standard a sitcom premise as any, so it feels fitting that “Fam” is as standard as they come. CBS’ new multi-camera comedy introduces newly engaged couple Clem (former “The Vampire Diaries” star Nina Dobrev) and Nick (Tone Bell), and then almost as quickly, Clem’s surly half-sister Shannon (Odessa Adlon), who’s broken into their apartment after dropping out of high school. Clem and Shannon haven’t spoken in years, mostly because Clem and her estranged father (a surprise Gary Cole) haven’t spoken in years, but Clem sees too much of herself in Shannon to ignore her completely. She therefore invites her to live with them so Shannon can sort her life out — or at least that’s the hope.
“Fam” — so named because, as per this CBS version of a 16-year-old, “no one says ‘family’ anymore” — doesn’t push much harder to find new angles beyond its setup. Clem and Jay are perfectly nice, vaguely dorky surrogate parents; Shannon makes countless jokes about smoking weed while stomping around in combat boots, as TV’s rebellious teens have for years. Every so often, Clem alludes to the fact that she, too, was a scowling teen who thought drugs and acting out were the answers to her bad family life. Those moments, when she can push back against Shannon by virtue of knowing her next moves better than Shannon herself, are by far the show’s least derivative.
As Jay’s bourgeois parents, the eminently capable Brian Stokes Mitchell and Sheryl Lee Ralph unfortunately don’t have much to do beyond make fond jokes around the margins. But they still do it well enough that it’s disappointing when Dobrev and Bell, enthusiastic though they are, can’t quite match them.
And that’s about the vibe for “Fam,” overall. In the early outset, the show feels like it cobbled together pieces of other shows — especially The WB’s “What I Like About You” —- to become its own perfectly pleasant sitcom Frankenstein. Even when it doesn’t do much to distinguish itself, it’s just fine, and maybe that’s enough.
Comedy, 30 mins. Premieres Thursday, Jan. 10 at 9:30 pm EST.
Cast: Nina Dobrev, Tone Bell, Odessa Adlon, Sheryl Lee Ralph, Brian Stokes Mitchell.
Crew: Executive producers: Corinne Kingsbury, Aaron Kaplan, Wendi Trilling, Dana Honor.