- Bless the Harts. Fox. Sunday, September 29, 8:30 p.m.
- Almost Family. Fox. Wednesday, October 2, 9 p.m.
Fox's idea of domesticity has always been a little on the feral side. From television's very first dysfunctional-family comedy Married … with Children to the longest-running sitcom in TV history, The Simpsons, Fox bloodlines zig-zag with wild abandon.
Having clubbed Ozzie and Harriet and the Cleavers like baby seals, the network is now turning to their modern descendants, the Bechleys, a blended family. Really blended—in test tubes and petri dishes. And there are dozens of them.
Almost Family, Fox's comedy-drama about the aftermath of a meltdown at a fertility clinic, is easily the most promising series of the fall broadcast season: funny, poignant, and drenched in the chemistry between three charismatic actresses playing women who suddenly learn they're sisters.
It's also the most likely to be buried under an avalanche of political-correctness tantrums. When Fox held a press conference last summer after screening the show for TV critics, it immediately turned into a #MeToo witch hunt, with the critics ranting about what they said was Almost Family's flippant attitude toward "medical rape."
Almost Family is a lot of things, but flippant isn't one of them. The show's premise may sound like a television contrivance, but a very similar scandal erupted at an Indianapolis clinic in 2018. (Oddly, though, that's not the story the show is based on; it's an adaptation of an Australian series called Sisters that launched in 2017.)
Almost Family centers around Julia Bechley (Brittany Snow, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend), an only child who works as the communications director at a clinic run by her widowed father, Leon (Timothy Bottoms, Ordinary People), an irascible pioneering fertility doctor.
Their relationship, always problematic, goes completely haywire when Leon, confronted by reporters, confesses that in the uncertain early years of his practice, he used his own sperm to impregnate scores of his female patients.
Julia's sense of personal and professional betrayal (the resulting scandal threatens to sink the clinic) only grows more profound in the face of her father's chilly indifference. He was, he insists, just trying to bolster the crude early fertility technology to help his patents achieve positive outcomes.
"Not outcomes," she furiously retorts. "Babies! Who grew up to be people!"
Among those people are Julia's ex-best friend Edie Palmer (Megalyn Ann Echikunwoke, 90210), a belligerent defense attorney who stole Julia's college boyfriend, and Roxy Doyle (Emily Osment, Hannah Montana), a fading and surly ice-skating star now known less for triple axels than a mean left hook.
The three share more than DNA. Julia's sunny PR smile masks inner turmoil that regularly boils over into squalid bathroom hookups with men she either barely knows or wishes she didn't. Edie's uncertain about an outwardly model marriage that, at home, has sunken into a sexual deep-freeze. And Roxy, her body a twisted wreck after too many hard spills on the ice, believes her parents ("the losers who raised me") see her as less a daughter than a meal ticket.
Each of the women feels a vague but insistent sense of an undefined hole in her life. "I'm sorry you picked such a broken person to be married to," Edie tells her husband after a fight, but it's a line that, with little alteration, could have been spoken by any of them.
Screenwriter Annie Weisman, who produced 23 episodes of Desperate Housewives, has woven Almost Family into a seamless tapestry of drama and comedy. And Snow, Echikunwoke and Osment are all equally adept at both, playing off one another like a stage ensemble that's headed into its 800th night on Broadway. The tale they tell has legal pyrotechnics, corporate intrigue, and countless layers of betrayal. But its real story is how, out of the jagged shards of their fractured lives, these women tentatively start rebuilding something together.
Fox's other premiere this week is also an oddball family story, one that gestated at Saturday Night Live, where creator and producer Emily Spivey wrote while stars (their voices, anyway; Bless the Harts is animated) Kristen Wiig and Maya Rudolph delivered the lines.
Jenny Hart (Wiig) is a single mom working in a greasy spoon in a small Southern town; her mother Betty (Rudolph) dreams of amassing a fortune through eBay trickery. There's not much here you haven't seen on another Fox cartoon, King of the Hill, except it's done with Southern accents. The pilot does feature a couple of interesting guest appearances—one by an anarchist cat working to destroy zoning laws, and another by Colin Powell doing the macarena. Call me if they get their own shows.