Something had to come along. Something charming, funny, even addictive. We just never thought it would come from ABC. Sure enough, the network's new sitcom, It's All Relative, is all that. As much a comedy about class as it is about sexual mores, the show is a sheer delight. Everything clicks: the cast, the writing, the editing. It just hums.
To hear it described, it doesn't seem like there's much there. The Irish Catholic son of middle-class bar owners wants to marry the rich, Harvard-educated daughter of two stylish gay men. It's the familiar culture clash story that's been told a million times, right? And we've all seen The Birdcage, thank you very much.
But It's All Relative is so totally refreshing and witty, that its lack of originality is easily forgiven. The pilot episode is brilliant. In South Boston, Bobby (the handsome Reid Scott) breaks the news to his parents that he's engaged to a young girl he met on a skiing trip in Vermont. She's not Irish. She's not Catholic. And, oh yeah, her parents are gay men.
Up on Beacon Hill, Harvard student Liz (the beautiful Maggie Lawson) tells her two dads, an art gallery owner and third grade schoolteacher, that she's getting married to a bartender from Southie, who's barely finished junior college.
The various parental meltdowns are hilarious. "Whatever happened to that nice black girl you were dating?" asks Bobby's dad, the burly, over-sized Mace O'Neill (Lenny Clarke). "Bobby's bringing queers into the family," taunts his slutty sister, Maddy (Paige Moss).
Liz's dads react with equal horror. "Sweetie, having the hots for a hunky bartender is part of growing up. We've all been there, " says wistful gay dad Simon (Christopher Sieber). But you get over it, he tells her. Especially if he's a Republican.
"You didn't raise me to be a snob!" protests Liz. "Oh, yes, we did!" shouts back gay dad Philip (played superbly by John Benjamin Hickey).
It's almost impossible in print to do justice to the smart dialogue so ably delivered by this strong cast. Their timing is perfect. It's as if these actors have been working together for years. All of the rookie mistakes and lack of chemistry that mar so many new sitcoms are notably absent.
On one level, It's All Relative will be touted as the gayest show of the new fall TV season, and gay audiences will surely find it compelling. But it's really much more than that. The show excels, not because of homo jokes, but because it holds a mirror up to the larger, often comical, American public.
What makes this country so wonderful, so crazy, so maddening is the combustible mix of people who couldn't be more different than one another. And isn't that the quintessential American tale? To throw these people together in a dramatic setting and watch them interact?
It doesn't matter how many times you tell the joke: two gay guys in a straight bar can be hilarious. So too can a burly ex-jock at an Amish quilt festival. Fish-out-of-water stories work -- especially ones as inspired as It's All Relative.