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TV Review: Better With You Really Shaping Up

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All new shows have little bugs to work out. When ABC’s Better With You began last fall, it had fewer than most. Months later, it is rapidly becoming a must-see. Even though newcomer Casey (Jake Lacy) arguably bonded with the rest of the family a little quicker than realistic, the six central characters have wonderful chemistry in any combination. The series frequently mixes up who spends time with who to delight in new arrangements, but it is strongest when all are together, as was the case for most of this week’s episode, “Better With a Leather Jacket”.

Casey has an important job interview to play a mascot named Maddie. This mascot is known as Maddie because it’s for a WNBA team that plays at Madison Square Garden. Showing clever writing, Joel (Kurt Fuller) remarks that daughter Maddie (Jennifer Finnigan) is also named Maddie for Madison Square Garden, as he is pretty sure she was conceived in the bathroom there during a concert. Never mind the coincidental names, that one line, and Maddie’s reaction to it, made the entire bit totally worth it.

Anyway, Casey borrows a jacket for his interview from Ben’s closet. It’s a leather jacket in a box at the back of the closet. Unaware of the family incidents involving the jacket, he takes off. When the others discover what Casey is wearing, they are horrified, as it is the storied unlucky jacket that has brought misery on every single one of them when they wore it. We see four of the five bad things happen in flashback, though for some reason, Vicky (Debra Jo Rupp) is always interrupted before she gets going, so we never see her tale. Is the show saving it for a stand alone episode in a year or two? Because that would be a really cool reference later on. If not, I still found it bizarrely humorous that she was left out.

Casey is actually having pretty good luck in the jacket, until the others catch up with him and try to rip it off his shoulders during the interview, making a mess, and screwing things up. Later, when he gets the job anyway, Casey uses his unique perspective to point out that the jacket actually brought them all luck, in a round about way. Too bad Ben (Josh Cooke) and Maddie have already given the thing away to their trivia rivals, who now go on a six month winning spree, decimating Ben and Maddie in competition.

I like that Casey is the outsider, who can often make the others see something they didn’t notice before. The other five have been together so long, they have shorthand and traditions and ways of doing things set in stone. They don’t even question themselves anymore. Having Casey marrying into the family is a great way to upset their balance a little bit during season one. As the series goes on over the years (as I genuinely hope that it does), this will wear a little thin, though. Soon enough Casey will start adapting to them. What will the show do then?

At first glance, Casey is also the weird one, but if you stop and think about it for a few moments, Casey may actually be the most normal in the group. Vicky thinks her alcoholism isn’t a problem, and everyone lets her get away with it. Maddie’s perfectionist ways are annoying, but again, everyone in the family lets her get away with it, only making it worse. Even Mia (Joanna Garcia, who recently added a Swisher surname), who thinks she’s the sanest in the group, has her quirks, usually demonstrated by a subtle gesture or offhand comment. Her story when she was in denial about needing pregnancy pants was LOL worthy.

The reason these people are funny, though, is because they think they are normal, and really, almost perfect. Anytime a flaw is revealed, whoever has the flaw laughs it off, or throws it back on the person criticising them. No one ever learns anything. For some viewers, that may be a turn-off, as generally character growth is a hallmark of a long running show. But Seinfeld and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia both have enjoyed many seasons without any character ever getting the slightest bit better. I see Better With You as the next in the line of unlikable characters being entertaining to watch.

Yes, all six are unlikable, in the most charming way possible. Despite their flaws, or really, because of them, it is loads of fun to watch Mia, Maddie, Vicky, Joel, Ben, and Casey every week. For now, they don’t even need guest stars, as most shows do, and have frequently gotten by without them. I recommend you join me on their adventures.

Better With You airs Tuesdays at 8:30 p.m. on ABC.

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About JeromeWetzelTV

Jerome writes TV reviews for BlogCritics.org and Seat42F.com, as well as fiction. He is a frequent guest on two podcasts, Let's Talk TV with Barbara Barnett and The Good, the Bad, & the Geeky. All of his work can be found on his website, jeromewetzel.com