ABC’s Better With You ended its freshman run with “Better With the Baby.” By the title, it’s easy to predict the main event in the episode: Maddie (Jennifer Finnigan) searches for her next career path. Oh, and Mia (Joanna Garcia-Swisher) also goes into labor. Everyone rushes to the hospital to be there for her birth, which is complicated when she suddenly decides she must be married before the baby comes. Casey (Jake Lacy), a.k.a. the most patient boyfriend in the world, agrees. The cast must pull together to make that happen, because unlike many first-time mothers, it is soon clear that Mia’s baby is coming pretty quickly.
It’s May sweeps, which is the biggest sweeps period for stunts because it overlaps with season finales. Better With You merges a wedding and a birth into one plot, serving the necessary big developments quota. By combining those two particular events, the sitcom could easily shoot itself in the foot, making the episode utterly unbelievable and ridiculous. For a freshman series to do so is unwise. Yet, the series pulls it off with a pretty charming episode.
That’s because ‘baby’ and ‘wedding’ are not pounded in the viewer’s faces every minute. Better With You‘s strength is the tightly defined six main characters and their interactions and dialogue with each other. By structuring “Better With the Baby” as a series of those small scenes that happen to surround the hype story, the show strikes a delicate balance in entertainment, pulling off a not-terrible episode from a risky recipe.
It probably also helps that one character is really not thinking much about the baby at all. Maddie steals a list of patients and their occupations from the nurses’ station, and spends much of her time running around to discuss different career possibilities for herself. All of the Better With You characters are selfish, in the tradition of Seinfeld and It’s Always Sunny…, but this may be a new low. Her sister is giving birth down the hall! In Maddie’s defense, she does keep tabs on Mia, and does not miss anything important. But still…
This is in character for Maddie, though. She is very career-orientated, and being without one has screwed her up. She needs purpose and goals in her life and doesn’t have any. It would be hard for her to devote her full attention to helping anyone else before she rights her own course, which is a little like securing your own gas mask on the plane before your child’s. From one perspective, Maddie’s need to land that next job before devoting herself to her sister is actually the best way she can help Mia. It’s justa bit twisted compared morally to what most people accept.
Luckily, Maddie’s side mission does help Mia, because she finds a judge (the talented Edward Herrman, Gilmore Girls) who is a patient, and he agrees to perform the ceremony. Any opportunity to see Herrman on screen is welcome, especially one that finds him officiating a wedding in a hospital gown and robe. Perhaps a bit undignified, but funny.
All of the characters on Better With You are a bit twisted. Joel (Kurt Fuller) and Vicky (Debra Jo Rupp) illustrate this best, especially in their marriage. Perhaps because they’re older, they care less about what others think, and just say whatever they feel like saying. While their daughter is in labor, they are involved in a marital squabble about Joel throwing out one of Vicky’s family heirlooms. An act he did decades ago, not recently, by the way. They are concerned about Mia, but not so much so that they can’t find time to fight.
Vicky and Joel’s relationship works, despite the clashing, because they are both honest with each other, and mostly accept who the other is. Joel ends up screaming at Vicky that he would throw away the precious heirloom all over again because their marriage has been great and he wouldn’t change one thing. It may sound like a cop out, but it comes from a place of sincerity. She is moved, and they make up. With lesser actors, this story would not work, because it exposes a very kooky pair that is hard to relate to. But Rupp and Fuller expertly balance real emotion with their weird quirks in a way where even yelling can be sweet. And very enjoyable to watch.
As reported in other reviews, Better With You has really defined itself by finding a working formula. All six cast members have wonderful chemistry, and the writing is witty. For instance, this week, all of the Putneys couldn’t understand why Ben (Josh Cooke) thinks he will be Uncle Ben (wonder why no one made the obvious rice joke?) when he isn’t legally married to Maddie. They just state it so matter-of-factly, not intentionally hurting Ben’s feelings, but doing so all the same. He rolls with it, used to their dismissal of him. It’s almost a throwaway, but is memorable because it lands so well. These sort of amusing bits happen multiple times in every episode.
That’s why Better With You, a bubble show, deserves a second season. It has characters and situations that deliver, and it will break new ground. After all, how many sitcoms rearranged themselves around a baby? Especially selfish sitcoms? Yet, that is likely to happen, as in the confined world of the six main characters, it isn’t realistically possible to hide the kid off screen too frequently, as is so often done on television. Please, ABC, give the show a chance to continue. It has met expectations so far.