The best new comedy on TV this fall is one that a lot of Utahns can relate to — it’s called “Single Parents.” No, really.
According to data from the U.S. Census, 18 percent of the children in Utah live in single-parent households — about 167,000 infants, toddlers, kids, preteens and teens under 18. That ranges from a low of 11 percent in Utah County to a high of 37 percent in Grand County. That means there are a whole lot of single parents in the state, among the nation’s almost 20 million households headed by single parents with minor children.
“Just in the concept, ‘Single Parents,’ it was interesting to me,” said Taran Killam (“Saturday Night Live”), who stars as one of five single parents in the ABC comedy. “I think parenting itself is quite a challenge, but to do it on your own is incredibly admirable. And I couldn’t believe there hadn’t been a show sort of focused on that plight.”
Well, there have been lots of TV shows featuring single parents. ABC alone has another half-dozen series featuring single-parent characters currently airing — “American Housewife,” “The Conners,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” “How to Get Away With Murder,” “A Million Little Things” and “Splitting Up Together.”
But only “Single Parents” (Wednesday, 8:30 p.m., ABC/Channel 4) makes single parenting its focus. It’s about five disparate parents who become a support system and surrogate family.
“We sort of see these people as being in a foxhole together,” said executive producer/co-creator JJ Philbin. “They’re just trying to get through the day, and parenting can take so much out of you. And because they’re doing it by themselves, they depend on each other so much.”
Being “super co-dependent” means “the stakes are high because they’re also raising each other’s kids,” Philbin added.
Killam stars as newly divorced, rather goofy Will, who’s raising a daughter after his wife left them. In the show’s pilot episode, he volunteered to be the room parent at school and tried to get his fellow single parents to help out.
“We’re single parents. We don’t volunteer,” said Angie (Leighton Meester, “Gossip Girl”), the mother of a high-maintenance boy. “We just try to survive until a time in the day when it’s appropriate to open wine.”
Kimrie Lewis stars as Poppy, whose son is more than a bit flamboyant; Jake Choi as Miggy, a young hipster with an infant son; and Brad Garrett (“Everybody Loves Raymond”) as Douglas, a 50-something guy whose wife — an exotic dancer — died, leaving him with twin girls.
“Divorce and death,” deadpanned executive producer/co-creator Liz Meriwether. “I mean, this is hilarious.”
Actually, it is. The show got a very positive reception from critics, and the ratings have been good — ABC has already upped the episode order from 13 to 22 for Season 1.
Meriwether said the show’s creators like exploring the idea "that the people you’re friends with because of your kids aren’t necessarily the people that you would be friends with if you could choose your friends.”
“It’s so true, because you’re thrown into a social group according to who your kids hang out with,” said Garrett, who’s been a single parent of two since he divorced in 2006. “It’s difficult. I mean, you don’t plan on being a single parent. And, obviously, my marriage cut into my wife’s dating,” he joked.
The idea for “Single Parents” came to Meriwether and Philbin while they were eating lunch in the writers’ room of “New Girl,” which they ran for seven seasons.
“I said to JJ it would be so fun to do a show where we could have these kind of crazy, very flawed characters but have them be parents,” Meriwether said. “And I was very pregnant at the time.”
(She and her husband, writer/producer Alex Cuthbertson, became the parents of Harriet in March.)
“We were having all of these interesting conversations,” said Philbin, who has two children. “And it felt like maybe there was a show there.”
The comedy — and, sometimes, the drama — comes from the character flaws. And the actors are thrilled with them.
“I think it’s exciting to play somebody who is not only flawed but also, at first, unaware that they’re flawed,” Meester said.
Choi said he’s more used to playing or auditioning for roles that are more one-dimensional or stereotypical. “So to be able to play a character that is flawed, that is three-dimensional, not perfect, and not defined by his ethnicity, I think it’s awesome,” he said.
It's a diverse cast — Lewis is African-American; Choi's parents immigrated from Korea. And their ethnicity has not been a plot point in the series.
“Later on, maybe it'll come up to give him a few more layers,” Choi said. “But he's not defined strictly by his ethnicity or race.
“I, personally, have never seen an Asian single dad on TV as a regular, who also is very hip and a sneaker-head and has tattoos — and he's not part of a vague, Asian gang. It's kind of ground-breaking.”
And kind of great.
As is the portrayal of single parenthood in “Single Parents.” Sure, it’s comedy. The characters and situations are heightened and idealized for TV. But it’s grounded in reality, and it has heart.
“What we want to do going forward is talk about the really hard parts about being a parent,” said Meriwether, adding that she feels like she’s aged a decade since her baby was born in April. “You’re always laughing and kind of crying at the same time, and I think that’s the kind of show that we want to do.”