Life In Pieces, the new CBS sitcom that follows its solid premiere last Monday with an even funnier episode tonight, is more difficult to summarize than it is to watch, trust me. The tale of a large extended family, the show tells four separate stories each week, and then sort of ties them together at the end, but not too neatly — which is actually a good thing, because the endings don’t feel contrived.
The show separates into couples. The biggest star names are James Brolin and Dianne Wiest as John and Joan Short — senior citizens fumbling through advancing age, short-term memory loss, and an inability to remember their house’s WiFi password, which Brolin refers to as “the Wiffy.” (Brolin also has my favorite comic phrase in the second episode, when the pop-culturally baffled John refers to a Darth Vader action-figure as “that magician doll.”)
One of the Shorts’ sons is played by Colin Hanks, fresh from the first season of Fargo; he’s teamed with Zoe Lister-Jones as new parents with a baby we saw born in the debut. The Shorts’ other son, Matt, is played by The Newsroom’s Thomas Sadoski; he’s embarking on a new relationship with Colleen (Angelique Cabral). And their daughter, Heather, is Breaking Bad’s Betsy Brandt, married to Tim, played by the excellently dough-faced comic actor Dan Bakkedahl.
In next week’s episode, there are plots about the lack of sleep Hanks and Lister-Jones are enduring thanks to their infant; Matt brings the new girlfriend to a Short family brunch to test how well she blends in with this loud, brash family; and there’s a subplot about chopping down a tree that becomes a test of masculinity for a number of the men.
These descriptions cannot convey the crispness of the writing, and the surprising chemistry that’s already in place among a group of actors with widely differing styles of comedy. Credit writer Justin Adler and director Jason Winer for coming up with an atmosphere and look for Life In Pieces that unifies, rather than fractures, the show. Show creator Adler may not have much to say in the subtext of this series beyond, “Families — they’re complicated!” but that’s still a pretty sturdy notion, one that’s behind a lot of good TV shows, novels, and movies. This is one of the few broadcast-network sitcoms this season I can imagine checking in on regularly.
Life In Pieces airs Mondays at 8:30 p.m. on CBS.