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5 Reasons ‘Trophy Wife’ is TV’s Best New Family Sitcom

By Sarah Carlson | TV Reviews | October 29, 2013 | Comments ()


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Sometimes, it seems that predicting the quality of a new TV series is easily done based on the pilot or even the previews alone. Most figured, for example, Showtime’s Masters of Sex would be just as great as Fox’s Dad’s is terrible. But some shows deserve more than one shot to really get a feel for them, and that’s if you’re giving them a shot at all. If you wrote off Fox’s Sleepy Hollow based on looks alone, you’re missing out on a fun little drama with excellent leads. Likewise, if you dismissed, like I did, ABC’s Trophy Wife based on its title and premise — Wife No. 3 of older husband must contend with predecessors and step-children — then you haven’t been watching what is easily the fall season’s cutest sitcom. Catching up on the series this weekend, I first thought Trophy Wife suffers from a poor title. That may still be true, but perhaps using the not-so-flattering term in the context of this series is a way to subvert the stereotype. The “trophy wife” in question, Kate (Malin Akerman), is far from a leggy status symbol for husband Pete (Bradley Whitford), and exes Diane (Marcia Gay Harden) and Jackie (Michaela Watkins) are given more to do than cause problems for her. What could have been an ugly or mean-spirited show has so far been a pleasant surprise in the realm of family sitcoms.

Here’s why you should add it to your Tuesday night lineup. (It will fit in nicely paired with Fox’s Brooklyn Nine-Nine, New Girl and The Mindy Project.)

5. The kids are all right.

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In fact, they’re pretty cute. Warren (Ryan Lee), 15, and Hillary (middle name Rodham, played by Bailee Madison), 14, were born to Pete and first wife, Diane. Bert (Albert Tsai), 8, is Chinese and was adopted by Pete and second wife, Jackie. Sure, for the show to work they need to be interesting, but Trophy Wife has avoided the pitfall of too-mature kids and found the right balance of precociousness and believability. Warren is as goofy and Hillary is driven, and even though Bert can act a bit beyond his years, he’s still kid enough to not want to go to sleep at night and to end up scared after watching late-night real-crime TV programming.

4. And they act like kids.

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The importance of not only relatable but enjoyable storylines cannot be overstated. In the pilot, Hillary was portrayed by a different actress (Gianna LePera) and with a different attitude. She was even more adverse to stepmom Kate than she is now, and right off the bat she was caught sneaking vodka in her water bottle at school, a trick Kate inadvertently taught her. Beginning with the second episode, however, Hillary was not only recast but almost self-corrected. She’s more Rory Gilmore than Regina George, although she has a tough of the latter’s attitude. Still, an episode examining her idea of “rebelling” provided a nice alternative to what we’ve come to expect of teen characters.

3. Bradley Whitford and Malin Akerman oddly work well together.

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Whitford wouldn’t be my first choice for casting a husband with a “trophy wife,” but again, that title doesn’t really fit here. Pete and Kate are an actual couple with an entertaining meet-cute — they met at a bar when Kate drunkenly stumbled off a karaoke stage and broke his nose with her microphone. Neither would have guessed they’d end up together, but here they are, giving it a go. Jokes about Kate’s age are made, of course, but the overall lack of cynicism in the series is nice. Whitford’s return to TV also is welcome. His Josh Lyman days may be long gone, but he’s as charming as ever with excellent comedic timing. Plus, there’s a warmth to him that plays well in a husband and father role.

2. The wives, collectively, are great, too.

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Kate may be written as the trying-to-reform party girl whose still-carefree best friend, Meg (Natalie Morales), represents the life she used to have, but more often than not, Akerman plays the straight woman to the first two wives. Watkins is perfect and quirky as Jackie, who often changes career plans as easily as she can turn a bedspread into a poncho, while Harden’s Diane is hilarious and no-nonsense surgeon who pushes her kids to succeed. If there’s a flaw here, it’s that Kate (and Akerman) is overshadowed by these stronger characters (and actresses).

1. Marcia. Gay. Harden.

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Seriously. She’s fabulous. Between this and her stint as attorney Rebecca Halliday on The Newsroom, the Oscar-winning Harden is owning this TV season. (Either of these characters could have an awesome-off with Patricia Arquette’s Sally Wheet on Boardwalk Empire.) Diane has an edge to her but isn’t cold. The way she handles Warren and Hillary when the two spill salsa on the couch is brilliant, all psychological warfare that is punishment enough. She’s crafty — she’ll have you thinking that her creating and cultivating a fake social networking profile as a teenager to learn what goes on with Hillary’s peers is a great idea — but she is no less loving than the others.

That’s what will keep you coming back to Trophy Wife — it is as genuinely sweet as it is funny, and these days, that can be hard to find.

‘Trophy Wife’ airs Tuesdays at 9:30/8:30C on ABC.

Sarah Carlson is a TV Critic for Pajiba. She lives in San Antonio. You can find her on Twitter.







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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not


  • Jifaner

    I absolutely love this show and MGH is the best! I like all the women, actually, and love that the show is really about them. Plus, the husband isn't a doofus. The salsa episode had me rolling.

  • Mary Swanson

    I like this show more than I thought I would. Sure, it isn't exactly groundbreaking tv, but it is pleasantly entertaining. To me this is the kind of show Modern Family wanted to me. Ugh, Modern Family.

  • Bananapanda

    Haven't checked it out yet but I find the gender divide on this fascinating - mostly male critics hated it and women critics liked it.

  • emilya

    i am really loving this show, yes a little reminiscent of early/good modern family, but still worth watching. I absolutely loved the plot line about the parents having to sneak out of bert's room on their hands and knees and as someone who has been babysitting a set of siblings for 7.5 years I have a lot of experience with the silent crawl out!

  • Cree83

    I've been watching it, and I find it entertaining in a mild sort of way, a few steps above Modern Family maybe, but since TV by the Numbers lists it as sure to be canceled, I'm thinking there's not much point in getting too invested.

  • Wednesday

    This is a pretty awful sitcom. The kids are variants on the "Modern Family" kids and the wives are may as well be named Controlling Superachiever, Hippy Dippy, and Too Young and Clueless.

    I only watch it because I like to have TV on when I'm putting away laundry.

  • lilianna28

    Here is why I want to be stubbornly bitchy about not putting this in my line up: Don't call it Trophy Wife. And ABC News, don't give me some BS news story about how the meaning of the term Trophy Wife has changed. You put what is a most times unfair, always sexist term out there as the title of your new show and want to pretend it's mainstream and hip because hey! It's good! Just- no.

    So yay, I guess, I don't have to be pissy with Whitford and Hayden because, presumably, they started filming a show called "Family Sitcom #657849" that some marketing asshole at ABC decided to give an offensive name. If you've watched it and it's a decent show that means the actors read the script and went "hey, this is good!" I'm just not getting on board. http://abcnews.go.com/US/story...

    I mean OMG:

    Claims of sexism may abound, but at the end of the day, many women would be flattered to be considered a trophy wife, and those who are not may actually aspire to become one, according to Dr. Debbie Then, a social psychologist who specializes in women and appearance.

    "Any woman who is deemed a trophy wife has sort of a feather in her cap, it's a compliment," said Then. "I think most of the women think it's flattering on some level. Because no matter what a woman does in her life, when the chips are down, women are all evaluated based on their appearance."

    But there may be such a thing as being too beautiful, she said, and many women feel slighted when their beauty is the only thing people notice.

    "There can be that double-edged sword that she can be too good looking for her own good," said Then. "It can take away from her other qualities, and people might see her as less professional."

  • TheOriginalMRod

    Um... Bradley Whitford... and anybody.

  • JOSH! <3

  • If you like Marcia Gay Harden, I just watched a delightful little gem of a movie with her called If I Were You on Netflix Instant. Not perfect, but it's silly, absurd, and Shakespearean, and MGH is awesome.

  • JenVegas

    Marcia Gay Harden is ALWAYS AWESOME. that is all.

  • Guest

    If it wasn't for the inclusion of the the word "Family" in your headline I'd riot.

    Brooklyn Nine - Nine is the best new network sitcom (and I.M.O show) this year.

    *Is Ackerman still doing Childrens Hospital ( I usually marathon CH at the end of its season and haven't been keeping up)? Didn't she already have a daughter in Chatswin?

  • Andrew J

    I've been trying to give it a shot but I find the Asian kid too annoying and the wives too unbelievable. That's after like three episodes. Now that I have abc back (thanks directtv) I'll try again

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