“The Unicorn’s” first very smart move is to begin well into the situation it depicts. Its central character, Walton Goggins’s Wade Felton, has been mourning his wife for a year; he and his daughters (Ruby Jay and Makenzie Moss) have reached the stage of acceptance, though the white-hot heat of active grief lifting allows them now to focus on certain confusions they’d been ignoring: How does a family constructed of four people go on, logistically, as three? And what would it mean to make the first, very tentative attempts towards welcoming a new person in?
All of which sounds like the stuff of drama, but “The Unicorn” moves with an easy and light step. Its concerns include learning to talk to daughters about dating and entering the online-matchmaking fray. These plotlines treat every party (from the daughters to the divorcée Wade asks out) with fairness and, crucially, don’t allow Wade to play the bumbling, inept dad. After all, he’s been a single parent for a year; we’ve moved past the clueless stage.
Supported by a dynamic and charming friend group (including characters played by Rob Corddry, Omar Miller, Maya Lynne Robinson, and an especially good Michaela Watkins), Wade works in the show’s first two episodes not to rebuild his life — he’s done that, however rickety the construction — but to begin truly enjoying it again. On dating sites, Wade is a “unicorn,” having proven his commitment to a partner he did not willingly leave; at a support group for widowed adults at which he’s the only man, he’s the belle of the ball.
Goggins, often typecast as a villain in projects like “Justified” and “Vice Principals,” doesn’t overcompensate here. He’s not purely sunshine and, though capable, he’s not always a perfect father — more due to confusion than to anger. His tentative steps past the first days of parenting alone are made with a certain optimism that’s appealing. The performance anchors what is in its first episodes a thoughtful and sophisticated sitcom about what follows mourning — in other words, the rest of life.
“The Unicorn.” CBS. Sept. 26. Two episodes screened for review.
Cast: Walton Goggins, Rob Corddry, Michaela Watkins, Omar Miller, Maya Lynne Robinson, Ruby Jay, Makenzie Moss, Devin Bright.
Executive Producers: Bill Martin, Mike Schiff, Aaron Kaplan, Dana Honor, Wendi Trilling, Peyton Reed, John Hamburg.