5 Questions and 500 Word: “Life In Pieces”

Welcome to another installment of “5 Questions and 500 Words,” my approach to reviewing the crazy amount of shows that will be unspooling/returning over the course of the next few weeks. Given the glut of shows, and the glut of reviews that will be published for these shows, I’m keeping things short and sweet. This is for your convenience and my sanity.

“Life In Pieces” premieres Monday, September 21, at 8:30 pm on CBS

Is this the CBS answer to “Modern Family”?

Depends what you mean by “answer.” Even in its later seasons, “Modern Family” earns the type of ratings that makes most network executives salivate. And yes, inasmuchas this is a show about various intertwining storylines involving an extended family, sure, call it a knockoff. But there are enough differences to make the comparison ultimately lazy.

What’s the biggest difference?

If the pilot (and CBS has only made the pilot available as of this writing) is any indication, “Life In Pieces” owes more to Comedy Central sketch programs than any network family comedy. Each storyline isn’t spread out over the half-hour, but rather told in four, discreet bite-sized chunks. They aren’t exactly sketches, but rather than sprinkle in one minute of story per act, “Life In Pieces” tells the 4-5 minute story as a whole and then moves onto the next one.

Does the premise work?

Again, it’s only one episode, but I do admire the overt architecture. It also means that any particular storyline that doesn’t work is over pretty quickly. I greatly prefer this approach to having a terrible C-story strung out over an episode just to give certain actors something to do. The downside? If you hate one part of the family, you’re almost certainly to hate 25% of every episode.

But does the approach work?

Again: ONLY ONE EPISODE. But yes, I laughed a lot at the four segments, and increasingly so as they moved on. I’m really curious to see if the long-term goal is to have segments build off one another (like, say on “Review”) or if they will be discreet one-offs that thematically do not resonate. I’d prefer the latter, of course, but doing that over the course of a full 22 episodes is probably too tall an order.

Will it even last 22 episodes?

It’s getting the plum post-“The Big Bang Theory” slot while Monday night football lasts, so there’s an extremely good chance of major eyeball exposure. It’s a funny show that has an extremely good cast. James Brolin in particular appears to be having the time of his life as the patriarch of the family. I greatly enjoyed the chemistry between Betsy Brandt and Dan Bakkedahl as the harried parents of three children. Casting gets you 75% of the way there on shows like this, and “Life In Pieces” has the cast that can make decent material great and great material soar. It won’t be appointment viewing for many of you reading this, but it feels like a mid-sized hit that could potentially launch another show this time next year.