NBC's new blended family comedy Welcome to the Family isn't what you might expect. I fully admit I went into it thinking it would be another "look at how different we are!" comedies that often use what stands out about one to draw the laughs, even if at the expense of that one. Right from the pilot, though, creator Mike Sikowitz proves himself as savvy about such stereotypes simply by refusing to give into them. And what, instead, was born was a very heartfelt, even if still somewhat broad at times story about the things we do for love.
Welcome to the Family starts with both families-- the Yoders (Mike O'Malley and Mary McCormack) and the Hernandezes (Ricardo Antonio Chavira and Justina Machado)-- at the high school graduations of their eldest children. Only child Molly Yoder (Ella Rae Peck) has succeeded against the odds of not-all-there-smarts, thrilling her father who is happy to get back to "couple time" once she is off at college. First born son Junior Hernandez (Joseph Haro), on the other hand, is class valedictorian, fast-tracked to a prestige university, only to receive a text message from Molly in the middle of his speech that she's pregnant.
While it would have been nice to see how these two even met and what they found they had in common to begin falling in love in the first place-- because the pilot strongly says they are in love and not just two kids who had an accident-- the pilot doesn't dwell or flash back. Instead it focuses on the "what next" after such life-altering news. Admittedly this leaves a little something to be desired in the romantic chemistry between Haro and Peck, but considering their characters should be somewhat shaken by the baby on board, I'm inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt that as they get more comfortable with each other off-screen, it will reflect, and they will feel more natural on-screen. As it is, they're just teenagers, and often those couples are completely mismatched to anyone who isn't the two of them, staring at each other through moony, hormone-fueled eyes.
These two families, who live on different sides of Los Angeles and have raised their children with different approaches, even if not values, now have to come together and rally around their children. Not even aware they were dating each other, they are not about to be bound together forever. And what makes it worse is that the patriarchs (O'Malley and Chavira) recently had an altercation that leaves each one thinking the other is a giant douche. They are prejudiced against each other not for the neighborhoods in which they live or the jobs they hold but because they have a personal grudge against each other. When you stop and think about it, it kind of sounds like they are family already.
The story of Welcome to the Family takes place in Los Angeles. Nothing about it said that it had to, and yet I am immensely glad it did. The pilot already dives deeply into the bright and bustling spots this city has to offer, as something of a love letter to the city, and that adds a grounding element that makes you see the faces of your own friends and neighbors reflected in the characters. It doesn't hurt that everyone in the cast gels extremely well together on-screen, either. The warmth with which Machado and McCormack's characters specifically embrace each other in this new and scary journey is admirable, yet you will find yourselves equally completely understanding Chavira and O'Malley's hesitancy, as well.
There are elements to Welcome to the Family that certainly feel like last season's The New Normal. There are still adjustments that have to be made and "people who have to come around" to this new idea of family, and of course there is the fact that a character will be experiencing a pregnancy and all the humor that can be mined from it within the first season. But Welcome to the Family isn't out to be preachy or full of teachable moments, choosing instead to just show these people and tell their story in a way that the audience can settle in and relax with it. There is a definite comforting and "homey" vibe to Welcome to the Family already.
Welcome to the Family premieres on NBC on October 3 2013 at 8:30 p.m., but you can watch the pilot right now on Hulu.
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