Best TV Shows You’ve Never Watched: TROPHY WIFE

Created by Emily Halpern and Sarah Haskins, this half-hour sitcom debuted on the ABC network in September 2013. I’ll just go ahead and rip-off the Wikipedia entry to describe the premise for you:

The series revolved around Kate (Malin Åkerman), a young, attractive, blonde party girl, who marries a middle-aged lawyer named Pete (Bradley Whitford). The marriage comes with Pete’s two ex-wives: the stern, perfectionist doctor, Diane (Marcia Gay Harden), and the flaky, flamboyant, new-age Jackie (Michaela Watkins). Also, Pete has three children from his prior marriages: overachieving, good girl, Hillary (Bailee Madison), slacker Warren (Ryan Lee), and rambunctious Bert (Albert Tsai). The series explores the marriage and generation gap between Kate and Pete, along with the modern family dynamics between them, the ex-wives, and their respective children.

I don’t recall if the series expressly stated Kate’s age. In real life, Akerman was 35 at the time this series aired, which was 19 years younger than Whiteford, who was 54 (although his character celebrates his 50th birthday in one episode). Nevertheless, considering that her character was supposed to be a “recent” party girl when she randomly met Pete at a karaoke bar, and how many of the episodes dealt with her having trouble adapting to her new role, I always felt that her character was meant to be still in her 20’s. Natalie Morales, who had a recurring role as Kate’s best friend Meg, who was still a party girl, was 28 at the time, which seems like a more logical age for Kate. But I digress.

This show was clever in the way it subverted stereotypes, but maybe that was part of the problem? I’ll explain what I mean in a minute. First, although it was promoted as a vehicle for Akerman and her character, this series was actually an ensemble show, which relied just as heavily on the rest of the main cast, all of whom were excellent in their roles and had great chemistry with each other. In that regard, the show reminded me a bit of Modern Family, including in the way the extended family was unnaturally involved in each other’s lives.

TROPHY WIFE – ABC’s “Trophy Wife” stars Ryan Lee as Warren, Bailee Madison as Hillary, Marcia Gay Harden as Diane, Bradley Whitford as Pete, Malin Akerman as Kate, Natalie Morales as Meg, Michaela Watkins as Jackie and Albert Tsai as Bert. (ABC/Bob D’Amico)

Pete shared custody of his children with each ex-wife, so the three kids were all regularly at his and Kate’s house, as were both ex-wives they’d come to pick them up or drop them off, or discuss various issues with the children. And Pete got along well enough with each wife, and sometimes storylines would focus on specific members of the family, such as an episode where Pete and Diane literally secretly stalk Hillary when she goes on a date and one where Pete and Jackie take Bert to play mini-golf together, to show to him that they’re not angry with each other. One episode has Kate going into business with Jackie, despite Pete’s warning that Jackie never follows through on her plans, and he turns out to be right leaving Kate to do all the work when Jackie begins to flake.

Other episodes involved such family fare as Bert contracting lice, causing a household quarantine, Kate trying to punish Hillary and Warren and stick to it, despite wavering because she wants them to like her, and a Christmas episode, where all the adults wake up with severe hangovers and no memories of what they did at a wild party the night before.

There were a few notable guest stars. Dennis Haysbert appeared in a couple of episodes as another parent from Hillary and Warren’s school whom Diane was having a secret relationship with. When Kate and Pete decide to have a formal wedding ceremony (since they originally just eloped and got married at City Hall), Megan Mullaly portrays Kate’s mother, who acts inappropriately during the bachelorette party. And Vanessa Hudgens plays herself, in an episode where Warren tries to get her to be his date for Homecoming.

But, alas, after one full 22-episode season, the series was not renewed. Wikipedia shows that while the first episode debuted with a decent 6.69 million viewers, the 22nd episode had dropped to just 2.83 million viewers (with some episodes before being even lower). And this is while remaining in the same 9:30pm Tuesday timeslot for its entire run.

So what went wrong? Obviously, I can’t say for sure. I could speculate that the title itself was one mistake. Like Cougar Town, which also got canceled by ABC, but at least was lucky enough to find new life on a smaller network, the title didn’t really fit what the show was about. Kate was not actually a “Trophy Wife”, the idea is that she was fighting the perception that that is what she was. But even so, that concept only came up in a handful of episodes (including one where Kate finds out that there’s a rumor among some of the other school moms that she used to be a stripper). But maybe viewers saw the title and just assumed it would be a story about a young woman who married a rich older man (Pete wasn’t even rich, he just well-off), and that plots would deal with her having to deal with resentful kids and evil ex-wives? Maybe something like The Third Wife would have been a better title?

Anyway, the 22 episodes can currently be streamed on HULU, and I still recommend you check it out sometime, and see what you missed.

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