October 05, 2013

TV: The Millers (Thu 8:30, CBS)

Do you remember this song from about 20 years back?

"Justified and Ancient" was a disposable piece of dance music featuring guest vocals from Tammy Wynette. The lyrics were utter nonsense about a couple of guys driving around in an ice cream truck, heading for MooMoo Land, but Wynette brought to the song the same absolute conviction that she'd brought to her finest country songs. And by god, somehow she made you care about that damned ice cream truck.

Margo Martindale is doing the same thing in The Millers, taking material that barely rises to the level of marginal and making it weirdly compelling through sheer force of personality.

The central character here is Nathan Miller (Will Arnett), who is finally forced to tell his parents (Martindale and Beau Bridges) that he and his wife have divorced. The news inspires Bridges to announce that he wants a divorce himself; when the dust settles, Dad's moved in with Nathan's sister and brother-in-law (Jayma Mays and Nelson Franklin), and Mom's moved in with Nathan.

The rest of the cast are fine, and they are all worthy of better material than this, but Martindale is performing acting miracles. She's given fart jokes, and overbearing mother jokes, and ball-busting wife jokes; she's asked to re-create the classic dance scene from Dirty Dancing, and somehow, she makes it all work and gets laughs with every single bit of it.

The show is created by Greg Garcia, who has done marvelous things with unpromising premises in the past (My Name Is Earl, Raising Hope); the hope that he might be able to bring the writing up to snuff, combined with Martindale's astounding comic magic, will be enough to keep me watching, much to my surprise.

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