It takes a vil­lage: ABC’s new com­edy ‘Sin­gle Par­ents’ shows the joy and chaos of rais­ing kids

Richmond Times-Dispatch Weekend - - CHANNELS - BY JOY DOONAN

This isn’t your av­er­age TV fam­ily. “Sin­gle Par­ents” is a new en­sem­ble com­edy from ABC that cen­ters around the lives of an un­likely group of friends who come to­gether over their shared sin­gle­par­ent ex­pe­ri­ences. The premise of the series fills a con­sumer crav­ing for on-screen rep­re­sen­ta­tion of less-con­ven­tional fam­ily struc­tures.

The idea of a cob­bled-to­gether sup­port net­work made up of wildly di­ver­gent per­son­al­i­ties is one that read­ily lends it­self to slice-of-life com­edy. Ear­lier this year, ABC picked up the series cre­ated by “New Girl” col­lab­o­ra­tors El­iz­a­beth Meri­wether and

J.J. Philbin. By the fall, the show had been so well re­ceived that the net­work or­dered an ad­di­tional nine episodes, bring­ing sea­son 1 to an an­tic­i­pated 22 episodes. You can get in on the hype when a new episode airs Wed­nes­day, Dec. 12, on ABC.

The series be­gins when the lead char­ac­ter, Will (Taran Kil­lam, “Satur­day Night Live”), moves to a new neigh­bor­hood with his daugh­ter, So­phie (new­comer Mar­low Barkley), who ends up in the same sec­ond-grade class as the chil­dren of other sin­gle par­ents. The rest of the tit­u­lar squad con­sists of fraz­zled paralegal Angie (Leighton Meester, “Gos­sip Girl”); the em­pa­thetic Poppy (Kim­rie Lewis, “Peeples,” 2013); straight-laced Repub­li­can Dou­glas (Brad Gar­rett, “Ev­ery­body Loves Ray­mond”); and young DJ Miggy (Jake Choi, “Front Cover,” 2015), who has a baby, but melds with the rest of the group by virtue of his friend­ship with Poppy.

The es­tab­lished clique de­cides to take Will un­der their col­lec­tive wing when they per­ceive that, after be­ing en­sconced in bach­e­lor fa­ther­hood for so long, he is woe­fully out of touch with his adult iden­tity. Thus be­gins the day-to­day jour­ney of sur­viv­ing par­ent­hood alone, to­gether. The show rec­og­nizes the bor­der­line corni­ness of its premise and takes the nec­es­sary mo­ments to poke fun at its own over­bear­ingly whole­some “it takes a vil­lage” ethos (even the kids let out a col­lec­tive “ugh” when Will de­scribes the group this way).

Of course, the main ap­peal of “Sin­gle Par­ents” is the cre­ators’ de­ci­sion to tell a story that gives the spot­light not to the typ­i­cal nu­clear fam­ily model, but to the un­der­ex­plored chaos and hi­lar­ity of rais­ing a child while sin­gle. In an in­ter­view with AV/TV Club, creator Meri­wether and writer Philbin ex­plained the process that went into de­cid­ing the sub­ject mat­ter of the show.

As their first col­lab­o­ra­tion, “New Girl,” came to a close this year, the char­ac­ters they had been fol­low­ing since 2011 were be­gin­ning to em­bark on new life ex­pe­ri­ences, in­clud­ing hav­ing chil­dren. As a re­sult, Philbin and Meri­wether opened up about their own par­ent­ing ex­pe­ri­ences in the writ­ing process, which led to the birth of a new project idea: the ex­plo­ration of fam­ily nar­ra­tives through the vul­ner­a­bil­ity of sin­gle par­ent­hood. Re­flect­ing on all the po­ten­tial for juicy ma­te­rial in­her­ent in this idea, Meri­wether said, “If all the char­ac­ters are sin­gle, we can tell dat­ing sto­ries and we can tell our crazy fam­ily sto­ries! And mar­ried par­ents are kind of smug and bor­ing.”

Choos­ing to de­pict the story of one big, happy, thrown-to­gether, dys­func­tional “fam­ily” has al­lowed the writ­ers some cre­ative free­dom in dis­play­ing the com­pli­cated re­la­tion­ships be­tween par­ents and their kids. Angie and her son, Gra­ham (Tyler Wladis, “A Christ­mas Story Live!”), for ex­am­ple, ex­pe­ri­ence mu­tual sleep­over anx­i­ety when Gra­ham is ner­vous to spend the night away from home, while Angie is ap­pre­hen­sive about spend­ing the night with a man.

The show is also prov­ing its re­lata­bil­ity, thanks to the way the cast mem­bers are able to con­nect with their char­ac­ters. In an in­ter­view with Glam­our, Meester com­mented that she “can only imag­ine [that sin­gle par­ent­ing] is the hard­est job in the world, be­cause be­ing a par­ent is the hard­est job in the world.”

Meester also be­lieves that, be­yond its re­lat­able entertainment value, the con­tent of “Sin­gle Par­ents” re­flects an im­por­tant shift­ing so­cial aware­ness about non­nu­clear fam­i­lies and the can­did ways in which they are be­gin­ning to be rep­re­sented on the screen. “We still aren’t for­giv­ing enough of ... work­ing moth­ers,” she said. “Play­ing this role def­i­nitely en­light­ened me.”

Kim­rie Lewis, Leighton Meester, Jake Choi, Taran Kil­lam and Brad Gar­rett star in “Sin­gle Par­ents”

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