The idea of adult children still living with their parents is a popular comedy theme in film and television so it’s only fair that the reverse is having a moment. This season, two comedies took on the premise of parents moving in with their children. While “Dads” is predicted to have an early retirement, “The Millers” is showing more promise thanks to solid performances from Margo Martindale and Will Arnett.
Arnett is Nathan Miller, a newly divorced ‘man on the street’ reporter for a local television station. When he breaks the news of his divorce to his parents, his father Tom (Beau Bridges) decides to leave his mother Carol (Martindale), reasoning that he too no longer needs to be stuck in an unhappy marriage. Carol moves in with Nathan and Tom stays with Nathan’s sister Debbie (Jayma Mays), her husband Adam (Nelson Franklin) and their daughter. Nathan, with a lot of encouragement from his friend and co-worker Ray (J.B. Smoove), is looking forward to the perks of being single. Carol is looking forward to controlling even more of Nathan’s life.
The Millers have been married for 43 years so their divorce leaves both Carol and Tom a little lost but also free to more openly express their hostility toward one other. So Tom may not know how to use the remote controls at Debbie’s house but when Carol chastises him for eating a pile of tater tots at four in the afternoon, he is now free to tell her that it’s actually his third plate of the day and then rattle off one or two insults for good measure.
There’s humor in Tom and Carol’s snarky back and forth but it often comes across as more mean-spirited than playful. More successful are Nathan’s interactions with his ex-wife Janice played by Eliza Coupe (“Happy Endings”). Arnett and Coupe know how to deliver a snide remark with just enough bitterness to keep it funny. Here’s hoping Janice makes regular appearances.
Nathan is a little insecure about his new single status and Ray is the smooth friend who wants to help him out with words of wisdom about the ladies and other life advice. I guess Nathan needs a male friend who isn’t as dorky as his brother-in-law but for me, Ray’s quips don’t add much to the show.
There’s much more humor to be mined from Nathan’s relationship with Carol. Here, Arnett mostly plays the straight man to Martindale and his job is to express dismay and disbelief over Carol’s controlling behavior. She is a master manipulator and Nathan is her favorite so their dynamic makes up much of the show’s comedy. She tells Nathan that he needs to deal with his ex about a family matter or she will since they never got to have an “exit interview.” It’s a funny threat purely thanks to Martindale’s deadpan delivery. She has a great ability to be sinister and harmless in the same breath.
“The Millers” love one another but never get too sappy about it which keeps their family dysfunction likeable. Tom has become less of a bumbling idiot since the first episode which is a welcome change but Jayma Mays as Debbie needs more moments to display the comedy skills she showed in her work on “Glee.”
Everyone can imagine their own version of “The Millers.” So far, this version looks like a winner.
“The Millers” is on Thursdays at 8:30 p.m. EDT on CBS.