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‘The McCarthys’ Review: Pilot

The McCarthys is a new sitcom about a gay man living in Boston with his close-knit family. Because it’s the only network show of the new season with a homosexual protagonist, it’s hard for me not to judge it first and foremost through that lens. The cold open shows Ronnie (Tyler Ritter) joining his family as they watch a basketball game. They doubt his knowledge of “the sports” and he tries to prove he knows more than they think: “the Celtics are the green ones and they’re playing the Miami.” I’ve long been a defender of gay characters people claim are ‘stereotypical.’ I’ve found that often times people who cry ‘stereotype’ at certain gay characters are straight people who, while they genuinely think they’re being supportive, are essentially saying that they just don’t like seeing men act this way and that they would prefer portrayals of gay men just acting “normal.” Similarly, I’ve found allegedly stereotype-defying characters to often be very flat– a gay character whose sole feature was liking basketball and kicking back beers is still a one-dimensional character. What I’m trying to say here is that as I watched this opening scene, I knew that there would almost undoubtedly be a “this is so stereotypical” conversation unleashed by this show, but I wasn’t ready to condemn it. When Ronnie narrated that his family likes watching basketball and he likes watching The Sound of Music, that was something that instantly clicked with me and my knowledge of sports is about as extensive as Ronnie’s, I don’t know if I would’ve been able to come up with “the Celtics are the green ones and they’re playing the Miami.” I like seeing men like myself, who love musicals and watching TV with their moms and know nothing about sports– so long as their genuine characters. Does Ronnie pass this test? The almost immediate answer– keeping in mind that this is a light sitcom and since we’re only one episode in we’ve only gotten a 30 minute introduction– yes.

Ronnie and his mother Marjorie (Laurie Metcalf, who is already brilliant here), immediately shine as great characters. Their comic raport is quick and underneath the snappy jokes, there’s already a genuine bond. The scene where they admit to being each other’s best friends is not only funny, but truly interesting. The show begs to be compared to Will  & Grace, not just for Ronnie’s similarities to Will Truman as a gay everyman, but because at its heart it’s about fascinating, co-dependent relationships. This might be optimistic, but I already see the potential for Ronnie and Marjorie’s relationship to end up being just as compelling as the relationship between Will Truman and Grace Adler.

All that said, beneath the consistent laughs and great relationship at its core, the show does have its problems. Fortunately, the biggest problem is mostly a clunky pilot problem that will, hopefully, go away soon. The simple fact is that the premise of the pilot is ridiculous. The idea is that Ronnie turns down a job as head guidance counselor in a private school in Providence in order to be his dad’s assistant coach at the local high school. What’s strange is how hard they go out of their way to make this decision ridiculous on every level: Ronnie isn’t interested in sports, the job in Providence is very obviously a better job, Ronnie’s brothers have coach experience and are sure they actually want the job. There are bits and pieces of the logic that I buy, like reminding us of how co-dependent Ronnie and his mother are and a moment where he mentions wanting to be there for his sister, who is about to be a single mother. But, overall it still feels like a messy premise. However, the convoluted premise absolutely screams network notes and I’m hoping that now that it’s out of the way they’ll get to what this show obviously wants to be: a straightforward family sitcom.

The McCarthys is not a sitcom that is trying to break the mold and, this probably goes without saying, people who gravitate towards the likes of Community and Louie shouldn’t bother with this show. I think The McCarthys aims to be a melding of Will & Grace and The Middle, which I think is a loftier goal than some people would acknowledge. And based on the pilot, I think it has the potential to achieve that lofty goal. Honestly, I’m excited to see more.

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