'Better With You' Review: Likable Characters, Good Concept

As ABC attempts to solidify its popular block of Wednesday sitcoms, the new show Better with You premiered last night, nestled comfortably between returning ratings successes The Middle and Modern Family. Thematically, Better with You makes sense as a transition between the smart, Heartland-values-oriented The Middle at 8 and the spicier 9 o’clock block of Modern Family and Cougar Town.

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Judging by the pilot episode, however, it’s not as funny as the others. The concept is interesting and has potential. It deals with three romantic couples, each at different stages of their relationship–two months, nine years, and thirty years. The oldest couple are the parents of the two females in the younger couples.

The middle couple, apparently in their mid to late thirties, are living together but not married. The female, Maddie (Jennifer Finnegan), a lawyer, is clearly unhappy about not being married, though she continually denies any dissatisfaction, always saying, “It’s a valid life choice.”

In the pilot episode, the younger daughter, Mia (Joanna Garcia), becomes engaged to a likable lunkhead–because she’s pregnant. This pushes a wedge between the two sisters because of Maddie’s unacknowledged jealousy over Mia’s engagement.

Of course, this being a situation comedy, ultimately the conflict brings the two closer together, and love conquers all, though enough underlying conflicts remain to ensure a new plotline will arise next week.

That’s all standard sitcom stuff, as are the show’s relatively simple characters and mundane settings–upper-middle-class apartment, nice restaurant, taxicab, etc. The jokes are standard too, though a few are truly funny.

The show does a good job of conveying the disorienting nature of modern sexual relationships while acknowledging that things have been dodgy between the sexes for at least the last few decades, as exemplified by the parents’ all-too-familiar problems. It also delves nicely into the different things men and women expect from each other and from romantic relationships. Those differences have been the stuff of countless romantic comedies throughout the past two millennia, and there’s plenty of new material to be mined from the social changes of recent years.

In addition, the idea of exploring how romantic relationships evolve over the course of decades (through the experiences of the three couples) is an interesting one. The show’s title, too, suggests the benefits to be had from long-term, stable romantic relationships.

Also to the show’s benefit is the fact that the two sisters are likeable despite their faults (Maddie’s lack of courage, Mia’s lack of caution), as are their more comically flawed partners and the sisters’ parents. Better with You also enjoys the benefit of a favorable timeslot, as noted. Whether those elements can overcome the ordinariness of the show’s execution is an open question.

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