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'Single Parents' on ABC Has Some Growing to Do
September 26, 2018  | By David Hinckley

ABC’s new sitcom Single Parents has to have been created by someone with young children at that critical age when parents think every crazy detail is fascinating.

It’s not. And neither is Single Parents.

Single Parents, which premieres at 9:30 p.m. ET Wednesday isn’t offensive, annoying or even unamusing. It just doesn’t have enough going on to hold down a half hour every week.

Will Cooper (Taran Killam, right) is a divorced Dad in his early 30s. His daughter, Sophie (a charming Marlow Barkley), is 7 and when Will takes her to the first day of school, he meets the parents of three other 7-year-olds.

Actually, he meets more than three. He meets three who are also single: Angie (Leighton Meester), Poppy (Kimrie Lewis) and Douglas (Brad Garrett).

This group on the surface couldn’t be more different. Angie is slightly airheaded. Douglas is a successful dermatologist whose M.O. in life is to slip everyone 20 bucks and tell ‘em to go buy something nice.

What they share is some alarm over Will’s total immersion in the single parenting world – to the apparent exclusion of anything that relates to anyone older than Sophie.

They’re alarmed rather than merely annoyed because Will keeps pestering them to be as immersed as he is. He stalks them to sign up for volunteer committees or to hand out napkins on Taco Tuesday. By the middle of the first episode, to get him off their backs, they have decided on an impromptu intervention, wherein they set him up on a date with someone who doesn’t still dress as if she were Elsa from Frozen.

That the others would join forces and focus this kind of attention on Will still seems unlikely, except that it enables Single Parents to forge the dysfunctional family essential to every sitcom.

It doesn’t help that all four adults are written as cartoon characters. While sitcoms routinely exaggerate typical traits to enhance the humor, the better ones also assure us that the characters retain those traits somewhere deep inside.

To be fair, Single Parents seems to recognize that it has to humanize Will, Angie, Poppy, and Douglas. Unfortunately, the execution gets awkward. Seconds after the third or fourth time Douglas corrects someone for calling him “Doug,” we’re into an exchange on the loneliness of the single parent.

That’s a real issue for single parents and can easily become part of a sitcom. That doesn’t mean Will’s obsession with one of Sophie’s stuffed animals automatically becomes a profound metaphor, and it doesn’t mean we don’t need a smoother transition from the kid parts to the grown-up parts.

There’s nothing wrong with the acting here that a less awkward script couldn’t fix. Killam nicely conveys the quiet desperation that fences Will into his narrow world. Meester handles well a sharp and amusing turn from her Gossip Girl days, and Garrett is comfortable with a character he’s played before. The kids are suitably charming.

We wish them all well with whatever happens next week. We just don’t feel particularly compelled to watch it.

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