By LYNN ELBER
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Calling “The Millers” a fully loaded vehicle isn’t a stretch.
The CBS sitcom, debuting Thursday (8:30 p.m. EDT), stars Will Arnett, who combines leading-man good looks with comic chops that have buoyed “30 Rock,” ”Blades of Glory” and “Arrested Development.”
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Margo Martindale is on board as well, the “Justified” Emmy Award-winner who has spread her gifts across TV, stage and movies, along with Beau Bridges, another veteran champ of big- and small-screen dramas and comedies.
The creator and executive producer is Greg Garcia, with a resume including “Family Guy” and “My Name Is Earl.” Jim Burrows, the patron saint of sitcom direction, is at the wheel.
So why, oh why, does the first episode seem so mechanical and its humor so stale?
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There’s much to work with in the premise. Arnett plays Nathan Miller, a local TV reporter of fluff stories who breaks the hard news to his parents that he’s gotten a divorce. That inspires his dad Tom (Bridges), who promptly walks out on his wife of 43 years, Martindale’s Carol.
Meddlesome, pushy Mom ends up moving in with Nathan, while inept, cranky Dad is bunking with their daughter (Jayma Mays), her unemployed nice-guy husband (Nelson Franklin) and their daughter (Eve Moon).
Jokes abound about aging parents who mistake the garage door opener for a TV remote control, make their grown children uncomfortable talking about their sex life, or lack thereof, and blithely pass gas because it’s what old people do.
All the actors try their talented darndest, with Martindale, Bridges and J.B. Smoove (“Curb Your Enthusiasm”), who plays Nathan’s buddy and co-worker, in particular ramping up the energy level.
Arnett, who plays smarmy and scheming so wonderfully, here is presented as the nice guy at the center of the storm. Let’s hope at least mild neuroses lay ahead for him to exploit.
Which points to the central disappointment of “The Millers”: How can such combined talents with track records that shout offbeat and original, including creator Garcia’s “My Name Is Earl” and the glory of Arnett in “Arrested Development,” yield such pedestrian results?
Maybe this model will manage to shift into gear.
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