NBC’s One Big Happy: A Lesbian Sitcom?

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

The cold open of the pilot episode of NBC’s new sitcom, One Big Happy, is jarring. The audience watches as Lizzy and Luke peruse shelves in a drugstore for a reliable pregnancy test. Amid a cringe-inducing laugh track and under the pretext of babbling to the cashier, the pair set up the premise of the show.

Lizzy (Elisha Cuthbert), a lesbian who fulfills some stereotypes (i.e. a healthy love of plaid; a lunatic ex-girlfriend) and eschews others (she’s not a man-hater; she doesn’t own any cats), decides to have a baby with her best friend, Luke (Nick Zano). After finding out that Lizzy is pregnant, though, Luke stumbles upon the love of his life, Prudence (Kelly Brook), a voluptuous British woman. The two get married so that Prudence is not deported back to England.

Ellen Degeneres, famous for her role as Dory in Finding Nemo and for making the LGBT community more palatable to the public at large, produces the show. Even with Ellen and out lesbian creator Liz Feldman at the helm, I feared that the show would unravel into a mess of stereotypes and the classic lesbian love triangle trope. So far, my fears appear to be unfounded, at least with respect to representation.

While lesbians have probably heard some of the jokes about wearing sensible shoes or keeping an old girlfriend’s stuff for months after a breakup, they probably haven’t heard those jokes on NBC. This show is not The L Word; it’s not by lesbians for lesbians, it’s by lesbians, for…everyone.

I am excited that this show is reaching a large audience, but I think that this desire for far reach forces very one-dimensional characters. Lizzy is a white, gender-conforming, femme-presenting lesbian and although her wardrobe is actually surprisingly masculine, she feels to me like a very safe, marketable version of a real life lesbian.

Despite these huge problems (and they are huge, and they make me sad and I hope other people are talking about them), One Big Happy is overall an incredibly satisfying watch for twenty minutes on a Tuesday evening. I have watched more bad television for the sake of lesbians than you might think possible, but I have never had the pleasure of watching one lesbian fall off of a treadmill in an awkward attempt at flirting with a girl at the gym. I have never watched as a group of friends tries to help their friend determine the sexual orientation of the girl she likes based on such revealing characteristics as playing high school soccer, wearing flannel, and driving a Subaru Outback. In short, I have never seen lesbian characters in cliched, overused sitcom tropes.

I’m not pinning my hopes and dreams on this show; it’s neither as revolutionary nor as commercialized as I expected it to be. The acting can feel mechanical and lackluster and the jokes often give me severe second-hand embarrassment with just how unfunny they are. Still, One Big Happy is a prime time, Big Three show that portrays the creation of a modern family using a commonplace genre in television. Just for that, I’m willing to follow along as the show finds its rhythm.

Featured image courtesy of www.afterellen.com.

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