When Ellen DeGeneres's sitcom character, Ellen Morgan, came out of the closet in 1998 during the final season of Ellen, it was a pretty big TV deal.

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This article was published 14/3/2015 (2455 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.


When Ellen DeGeneres's sitcom character, Ellen Morgan, came out of the closet in 1998 during the final season of Ellen, it was a pretty big TV deal.

When Elisha Cuthbert's gay character, Lizzy, decides to have a baby by artificial insemination in the première of the new DeGeneres-produced sitcom One Big Happy, it most decidedly isn't.

Times have changed. Attitudes, too. In the post-Will & Grace world, there aren't many eyebrows raised by the presence of gay or lesbian characters in the core groups of characters in network TV shows.

And that's a bit of a problem for One Big Happy, which debuts Tuesday at 8:30 p.m. on NBC, because it seems to be counting heavily on the notion that it's a groundbreaking comedy.

It isn't. It's a very conventional TV sitcom that adheres to the most familiar structural traditions of the genre, and despite frequent attempts to mine laughter from the use of "shocking" or "naughty" language, it really is a very ordinary show.

The story revolves around the aforementioned Lizzy, a 30-ish lesbian who shares a house with her straight longtime best friend, Luke (Nick Zano). Despite the fact they're both incredibly attractive and relatively smart and funny human beings, they're both single and feel the prospects of finding meaningful relationships are slim.

So they've decided to act on one of those "If we're both (fill in the blank) when we turn 30, we'll (fill in the blank) together" promises they made many years ago; in this case, the issue is parenthood, and the solution is to have a baby together.

Because Lizzy is a lesbian ("big time," is how she explains it to a store clerk), they're going the artificial insemination route; after their most recent try, they buy a pregnancy test, which (after the obligatory series of urination-related jokes and laughtrack flourishes) turns out negative.

Sadness ensues, then a trip to a local bar to drink away the non-baby blues.

During the course of the evening, Luke meets a fetching Brit named Prudence (Kelly Brook), and sparks fly. He thinks that she might finally be The One, or at least might be if she wasn't flying home to England in a couple of days.

After a whirlwind-ish romance that includes bringing Prudence back to the house -- where Lizzy learns that the not-so-prudish Prudence likes walking around naked (affording the show's writers the opportunity to see how many times they can work "vagina" into the dialogue) -- Luke tries to convince her to stay.

But she can't, she confesses, because she's in the U.S. illegally and is being deported. If only there were a way -- marriage to a U.S. citizen, perhaps? -- she could stay...

Which brings about One Big Happy's central premise: at the same time Luke and Prudence announce they've run off to Vegas for a quickie wedding, Lizzy reveals that that last test result was a false negative and that she is, indeed, preggers.

Lesbian mom-to-be; straight, no-longer-single sperm-donor dad; wacky nudist new Brit wife -- one big happy slightly unconventional sitcom family.

Structurally, One Big Happy is actually well made -- employing the traditional four-camera, live-audience sitcom format, it delivers jokes at a rapid pace and has a cast that is fully committed to old-school comedy performance. Cuthbert, in particular, demonstrates a real flair for the quick reactions, snappy line delivery and wacky physicality the form requires.

The problem is with the jokes. They're frequent, but not all that funny. And the only thing that matters to a TV sitcom is making the audience laugh.

When Ellen left ABC's airwaves at the end of its fifth season, some speculated the cancellation was a backlash for DeGeneres's decision to have her sitcom character's behaviour reflect her real-life revelation about her sexual orientation. In truth, Ellen failed simply because it stopped being funny.

And if One Big Happy doesn't survive beyond its six-episode mid-season run, it won't be because TV viewers weren't open to its ground-breaking concept. It will be because when it comes to the only measure that matters -- getting laughs -- One Big Happy is no big deal.

brad.oswald@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @BradOswald

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Brad Oswald

Brad Oswald
Perspectives editor

After three decades spent writing stories, columns and opinion pieces about television, comedy and other pop-culture topics in the paper’s entertainment section, Brad Oswald shifted his focus to the deep-thoughts portion of the Free Press’s daily operation.