A family sitcom about raising kids while trying to be an adult human likely causes one of two responses in any normal parent: indifference or outright malice. In the rare moments of parental downtime, watching shows or movies about parenting and children can be triggering to the point of insanity. Why would we parents want to watch schmaltzy media which reflects our own tortured existence right back at us? Well, the answer is that sometimes a show or a film can sublimate the experience of being a parent in a way that isn’t awful and is actually kind of uplifting. This is the rare feat accomplished by the new ABC sitcom Single Parents.
Though parents who are single might relate more keenly to Single Parents than ones who have partners, that doesn’t mean the struggle of parenting doesn’t work. In fact, because each of the parents on the show is isolated from a spouse, it helps us relate to them better. When one of the characters is desperate to wait in line for some trendy sneakers, he brings his infant baby with him. When his childless sneaker-enthusiasts give him grief, he snarls back “free babysitting doesn’t just fall out of the sky!” When he gets a text the next minute from one member of his single parent gang, the joke lands. Free babysitting suddenly falls out of the sky.
The gang of single parents is what makes the fantasy conceit of Single Parents appealing as escapism for real parents. Everyone actually wishes they had parent friends this loyal and this varied. Sure, on some level Single Parents is peddling a series of cliche archetypes instead of actual characters, but the result is an ensemble that works and makes you want to believe the fantasy. Part of this is achieved with the classic comedy formula of contrasts. In real life, you wouldn’t believe a conservative fuddy-duddy Douglas (Brad Garrett) would be friends with black feminist Poppy (Kimrie Lewis), but the fantasy world of Single Parents, parenting makes for strange allies.
The best moments of Single Parents emphasize parents as people and celebrate the human weaknesses of parents. “You’re in deep. In the vortex…you’ve lost all touch with the person you used to be,” one parent says to another. Sitcoms excel at hyperbole; that’s the basis of comedy. But with this premise, the unrealistic and the relatable are balanced just enough to make any parent smile.
-Single Parents debuts Wednesday, September 26 on ABC at 9:30 pm EST.-