- Jon Cryer returns to his sitcom roots in NBC’s Extended Family, playing a hapless divorced dad trying to maintain a relationship with his kids after a new, cooler male role model enters their lives.
- Extended Family draws parallels to Cryer’s previous show, Two and a Half Men, with its premise of divorced exes sharing a house and a new romantic partner causing tension.
- The show borrows elements from other sitcoms, including direct confessionals to the camera and cutaways, but ultimately plays it safe with a traditional sitcom format and a laugh track.
Jon Cryer’s latest sitcom finds him as a newly divorced dad trying to maintain a relationship with his kids after a new, cooler male role model enters their lives. And before we go any further, we should note that it’s not 2003, and this is not about Two and a Half Men. Instead, Cryer returns to his sitcom roots on NBC’s new Extended Family. He plays Jim, alongside Abigail Spencer as ex-wife Julia and Donald Faison as Julia’s new beau Trey. Cryer’s hapless divorced dad character immediately calls back to Alan Harper, the role he embodied on Two and a Half Men for 12 seasons.
While not an identical premise to the earlier show (there are two kids here instead of one), one can’t help but see similarities. Rumors of a Two and a Half Men reboot have floated around since the show wrapped in 2015, but there have never been any concrete efforts to revisit it. So, is Extended Family a sort of semi-reboot of Two and a Half Men? Is it a way for Cryer to recapture what viewers loved about the early years of his first big show while also aiming at a new audience? Let’s take a look.
What Happens in Extended Family?
Extended Family is about as traditionally “sitcommy” as you can get, laugh track and all. After Jim and Julia divorce, they want to preserve as much normalcy for their kids as possible. They keep the family house and alternate which of them stays there with the kids on a given week. But, uh oh, things get tricky when Julia falls for Trey, the cool, suave owner of the Boston Celtics. Are the kids going to think he’s more fun than Jim?
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As of this writing, only one episode has been released. It’s too early to judge the direction this show will ultimately take, but it’s easy to see what they’re going for. Divorced exes sharing a house with a new boyfriend hanging around? The sitcom writes itself. Outside the main cast, Jim’s wisecracking dad also pops in now and then. Interestingly, the show is based on real-life Celtics owner Wyc Grousbeck, who formed a friendship with his wife and her ex-husband.
The Two and a Half Men Parallels
Even after one episode, we can see the connections to Two and a Half Men. It is going for a lighter tone, however. In TaaHM, Alan was thrown out by ex-wife Judith with no intention of maintaining any kind of friendship. Here, Jim and Julia at least say they want to create little disruption for their kids. Their daughter is still understandably upset by the news, much like Jake was in the earliest days of TaaHM. That is before he was greatly “dumbed down.”
The Charlie Sheen role of the laid-back, cooler uncle is filled by Faison’s Trey here. While the kids seem indifferent to Trey in episode one, it’s easy to see he was written to be a threat to Jim for the kids’ attention. There was plenty of sibling rivalry over Jake in TaaHM, and we’ll likely see the same thing going forward in Extended Family.
The driving force of what made TaaHM work (at least for the first eight seasons) was the chemistry between Cryer and Sheen. They had a natural rapport that couldn’t be faked for TV. A certain That ’70s Show star tried to fill the void, but some believe Ashton Kutcher killed the show. It’s clear to the audience when actors try to force a connection that’s not there. Again, we’ve only seen one episode of Extended Family, so dynamics are still being fleshed out. We’ve also never seen Cryer work with Abigail Spencer and Donald Faison, so hopefully, the three can build their own rapport as the show goes on.
Chuck Lorre recently wrote a sitcom pilot based on the creation of Two and a Half Men along with Charlie Sheen’s infamous meltdown.
Let’s be honest: an official Two and a Half Men reboot isn’t coming along anytime soon. One and a half members of the original cast, Charlie Sheen and Angus T. Jones, aired their very public feuds with the show during its run. Following the end of the series, many fans have wondered what happened to Angus T. Jones, as his acting career has been relatively quiet. Core cast member Conchata Ferrell, who played wisecracking housekeeper Berta, passed away in 2020. Couple that with the messy and divisive series finale, in which a falling piano crushed a risen-from-the-grave Charlie Harper (yes, really), and you have a show that should just be left alone. Extended Family is as close to a revival as we’ll likely ever see.
Extended Family Draws From Other Comedies
Besides Two and a Half Men, Extended Family borrows elements from numerous other sitcoms. A hallmark of the show is those famous confessionals where the characters speak directly to the camera, breaking the fourth wall, a la The Office, Modern Family, and Parks and Recreation. Unusual for a multi-cam show, these confessionals establish much of the exposition and backstory in the pilot episode. They also set up the show’s own version of cutaways, as in Family Guy. For example, Julia and Trey tell how they met, and the show breaks from the main story for a flashback of that meeting.
That borrowing is no surprise with how many sitcom vets are involved with the show. Creator Mike O’Malley starred for six seasons on CBS’ Yes, Dear. Sitcom directing icon James Widdoes helmed the pilot episode. He’s worked on Reba, 8 Simple Rules, Mom, The King of Queens, and even the majority of Two and a Half Men episodes. The show also boasts Tom Werner of 3rd Rock From the Sun, That ’70s Show, Roseanne, and The Conners as a producer.
Extended Family proves broadcast TV is not giving up on the traditional laugh-track-heavy sitcom. However, those who want to see a radical reinvention of the formula will not find that here. Playing it safe isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In a streaming-dominated age, audiences turn to familiar network TV for what is comforting and safe. As a bumbling divorced dad, Jon Cryer is something viewers know, so will that be enough to draw in curious eyeballs?
Extended Family is available on NBC every Tuesday at 8:30/7:30c and streaming on Peacock.
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