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'Outmatched' Isn't All That Outstanding
January 23, 2020  | By David Hinckley

A sitcom in which the kids are smarter than the parents is the TV version of "dog bites man." Nothing to see here, folks. Move along.

Fox's new sitcom Outmatched, which premieres Thursday at 8:30 p.m. ET, bravely tries to sprint right past that problem, by making the kids so much smarter than their parents that the parents actually become sympathetic.

The last time parents were smarter than kids on a TV sitcom, by my calculation, was Father Knows Best.

Jason Biggs, back to playing the lovable goof of American Pie after his detour into drama for Orange Is the New Black, is Mike, your classic big-hearted blue-collar Dad.

Maggie Lawson (The RanchPsych) is Kay, Mike's wife. She seems to hold some sort of administrative job at a casino in Atlantic City, where the family lives.

They eat pizza and live a normal life except for the fact they have four kids, and three of them are geniuses.

That starts with Nicole (Ashley Boettcher), who wears her genius certification like other teenagers used to wear a prom queen sash.

Then there's Brian (Connor Kalopsis), who's a more traditional brilliant geek. Great with objects and videos, not so good with actual people.

Marc (Jack Stanton) just got the results of his IQ test, and that makes it three. Marc's immediate field of interest appears to be opera, so Lord knows what lies ahead for him.

The outlier is the youngest, Leila (Oakley Bull), who may be too young for testing but may simply not have inherited the same genius genes.

At the same time, Leila may be street-smart. She tells her mother she'd like to be a waffle because she loves waffles, and that way, when she got hungry, she could just eat herself.

Argue with that, geniuses.

Anyhow, the premise and the joke in Outmatched, which are the same thing, firmly establish themselves in the opening scenes.

Mike and Kay bemoan the fact that not only are their kids smarter than they are, but they also require all sorts of genius accommodations. Science experiments occasionally render the dining room unusable. Rita speaks in sentences that require Google Translator to understand.

Then there's the pressure to send them all to private schools, so their genius can flourish, and we haven't even gotten to the way that being geniuses does not suppress the competitive and argumentative nature of teenagers and adolescents. Rather, it enhances those universal qualities.

Mike and Kay sometimes retreat to their claustrophobic basement just to have a moment when they feel like they're living normal ragged lives.

Now all this could easily get kind of whiny. Outmatched tries hard to dodge that trap, and also to neutralize the inevitable temptation among some viewers to respond, "Your kids are too smart? Poor baby!"

The bigger problem for Outmatched is that the pool of laughs about genius kids seems neither particularly deep nor particularly wide. Maybe it is. But from where we civilians sit, there's no way around the notion that at some point the show is going to need a second joke.

As professionally as Biggs and Lawson play their roles, and cute as Bull instantly becomes, the writers have a tough challenge in keeping the humor level of Outmatched anywhere near its characters' IQs.

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