Trophy Wife feels like it should be a good show. It's got a great cast: Bradley Whitford from The West Wing, Malin Akerman from Children's Hospital and Marcia-freaking-Gay-Harden. It's created by Sarah Haskins, she of the smart satire on gender stereotypes in the media, but somehow, all that TV goodness just doesn't add up.
For all the smart women involved in the show, it's sure got a bad case of rom-com tropes. Ackerman's character, Kate, doesn't have a lot of compelling traits: she used to be a party girl, and now she's a so-called trophy wife. She doesn't seem to have a job or any discernible interests. She's conventionally pretty, yet awkward. And in her meet-cute with her soon-to-be older husband, she literally falls on him, a move that happens exclusively in romantic comedies.
While Kate is ostensibly the main character of the show, the pilot mostly follows around her step-kids to mixed results. It's a huge gamble making kids such a huge focus of the show — what's cute one moment could easily be grating the next. And the kids themselves aren't terribly compelling, instead just filling the roles of "cute little kid," "awkward teenager," and "angry teenager." But somehow each of these kids gets an entire subplot devoted to them (the youngest one gets a second with Kate's best friend, whose purpose in the show remains to be seen).
The lack of a strong narrative in the show would be fine if the jokes were strong, but at this point, they're mostly being sold by the adult actors. Most of the jokes on the show wouldn't sound terribly funny on paper, but the actors make it work — Akerman's chugging of a vodka water bottle for her step-daughter would be nothing without her purposefully over-the-top performance.
Fortunately, all the adult actors seem pretty game: Akerman tries her darndest to make the jokes land, Whitford is a dry, toned-down Josh Lyman, Harden is appropriately terrifying as his doctor ex-wife, and former SNL cast member Michaela Watkins brings the most comedic muscle as Whitford's free-spirited ex-wife.
I want this show to work, I really do. But right now, the only people really selling the show are the actors. Trophy Wife could easily be overlooked or pigeonholed once its premiere comes around, and it needs to make a strong case for itself in the pilot — but this is not it. This show has enough smart people behind it that it could easily turn itself around within the first few episodes, so let's hope audiences give it enough time to do so.
The show premieres Sept. 24 on ABC.