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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » The Millers: The First Season
The Millers: The First Season
Paramount // Unrated // August 19, 2014
List Price: $54.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Tyler Foster | posted September 10, 2014 | E-mail the Author
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In the '90s, the network sitcom had a contemporary golden age: "Seinfeld", "Friends", and the best seasons of "The Simpsons", among others, were not just popular but also cultural phenomenons, striking a perfect balance between "edgy" and "comforting." As the 21st century dawned, however, those two tones split off into distinctly different directions. On one end of the spectrum, single-camera sitcoms with no laugh track strive to be different, while the "traditional" sitcom burrows its head deeper and deeper into the sand, almost insistently refusing to grow or change with the times. Rhythms and beats that once seemed like part of the format now verge on self-parody simply by occurring, because sitcoms like "The Office" and "Community" illustrate that breaking from convention can work. "The Millers" is one of the latter shows, so desperately chained to the past that it's willing to sink.

Nathan Miller (Will Arnett) is a TV news anchor (simultaneously unpopular enough to be dissatisfied with his position, but famous enough to be repeatedly recognized), newly living the single life after divorcing his wife of three years, Janice (Eliza Coupe). The only catch is, he hasn't yet told his parents, Carol (Margo Martindale) and Tom (Beau Bridges), because he's the "perfect son" and he doesn't want to deal with their reaction. Although she was reluctant at first, Nathan's sister Debbie (Jayma Mays) is also willing to go along with the lie, as is her husband Adam (Nelson Franklin). Unfortunately, when Carol and Tom come to town for the weekend and unexpectedly end up at Nathan's home instead of Debbie's, Nathan admits the truth. Although Nathan is just worried his mother will freak out, it's his father who does something drastic: he promptly divorces Carol -- if his son can do it, then damn it, he can too.

This is, to put it lightly, an awful comedic premise for something as safe as network TV. A show like "Everybody Loves Raymond" may have run through a fair share of tropes about marriage or men and women, but the entire hilarious set-up for every punchline on "The Millers" is that Carol and Tom hate each other's guts. Were "The Millers" a pitch-black satire with serious bite, that might be kind of funny, but this is four-quadrant entertainment at its most pandering. Creator Greg Garcia offers up the naggy mom and dopey dad pushed to their most repellent extremes. One episode revolves around a family cemetery plot that Carol purchased while Nathan and Janice were still together, and ends with Carol having staged her heartbreak, and convinced a fellow mother to hit the road in the hopes of badgering her estranged children into giving up Judaism for Christianity. Then again, that's nothing compared to Tom's utter cluelessness: he's presented as so dumb he doesn't know whether there are feathers inside eggs. Sure, these are jokes, but they're also jokes that celebrate the characters' awful personalities.

The most depressing thing about "The Millers" is how easily it wastes an impressive and talented cast. Bridges fares the worst, dropping his lines in an energy-free monotone that almost suggests he knows how uninspiring his dialogue is, and is trying to communicate his disdain to the audience. Margo Martindale puts a little more effort in, but the scripts have nothing to offer, rewarding her effort with a shrill, bossy character to play that many viewers will quickly hate as much as Nathan does. Carol is cursed with an obnoxious lack of self-awareness that the show's writing staff seems to hope people will find endearing, or at least pitiable, but it's one of the show's most off-putting creative choices. Tom may be cartoonishly clueless, but cluelessness is less intrusive than Carol's never-ending know-it-all self-righteousness.

Still, despair most for Will Arnett, with a tear on the side for J.B. Smoove as Nathan's friend and co-worker, Ray. Arnett shot to fame thanks to "Arrested Development", one of the greatest sitcoms of the 21st century, everything "The Millers" isn't, and among an immensely talented ensemble cast, he was one of the MVPs. It's hard not to imagine a flicker of pain in his eyes as he works his way through each telegraphed punchline, each painfully contrived arc, with nary a moment or idea to sink his comedy teeth into. Smoove, similarly, was on HBO's "Curb Your Enthusiasm", a show that redefined biting humor. When the pair are on-screen together, there's a hint of camaraderie as they mug for the camera together, the studio audience howling with pre-determined laughter. Comfort food is something everyone indulges in from time to time, and the sitcom is meant to be familiar, unwavering, maybe even a bit low-brow. "The Millers" isn't bad for being these things, it's bad for being creatively empty, an exercise in hatred that doesn't even have the sense to be mean.

The DVD
"The Millers": The First Season arrives with artwork that perfectly captures its aggressive mediocrity. The cast is photographed together on a bathroom set with Dad on the toilet and Mom brushing her teeth, while Nathan peers out of the shower making a classic face of comic exasperation. It's an image that doesn't even make sense, since a central part of the show's premise is that Mom and Dad are living in different places. The title "THE MILLERS" is boldly rendered in red CG block letters across the front of the DVD -- not even the show's actual logo, but something that looks as non-descript as Arial that someone took the time to recreate using 3D technology. The 3-disc set comes in a transparent Amaray case with episode summaries and disc contents showing through on the inside, and there is a glossy slipcover duplicating the artwork.

The Video and Audio
Presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen and Dolby Digital 5.1 audio, "The Millers" looks and sounds decidedly average. Colors seem fine but don't pop off the screen, detail is acceptable but nothing is stunningly rendered, and no obvious compression artifacts or glitches are visible despite the sense that many scenes are right on the verge (each disc pushes up against the 3-hour limit of a DVD). Sitcoms are generally not known for their constant soundtrack cues or even full score, but little transitional jingles that play over unchanging stock shots of homes or offices, so there's little for the audio to deal with other than the laugh track and the dialogue, which both sound decidedly fine. A standard 2.0 audio track, English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing, Spanish and Portuguese (?) subtitles are also provided.

The Extras
An audio commentary by Greg Garcia is available for the pilot episode. As generic as the show itself.

The rest of the extras are located on Disc 3. "'The Millers': Behind the Scenes" (3:23) is a brief piece packed with clips and shots of the adoring studio audience clapping along to scenes from the pilot. Somehow, the clips have been made even less funny by the addition of optical zooms, which are something like a visual record scratch. This is followed by five promos for the show, including some specially-filmed material with Arnett, Martindale, and Bridges.

"'The Millers': Season in Review - Year One" (14:46) is a strange thing I feel like I saw parodied (on the first season of "Community") before I saw this serious version where the cast and crew reminisce about shooting the season, their favorite jokes, and their character arcs. It basically feels like a really lengthy version of the behind-the-scenes puff piece, given how many clips there are, and how many soundbyte-friendly comments the cast makes.

"J.B. Smoove Walks the Streets" (10:57) features the actor giving the viewer a tour of the studio where the show is made. Pleasant enough, but not hilarious or anything, and it too features some clips. "The Actor's Actor: William Arnett" (4:14) is a gag interview with Arnett where he does some softball jerk comedy that the kind of audience that finds "The Millers" funny won't be offended by.

The disc ends with a "'The Millers': Season 1 Gag Reel" (6:58), which actually features the studio audience laughing, which makes for a really bizarre viewing experience.

Conclusion
One of Greg Garcia's previous shows was "My Name is Earl", a sitcom that may have been near the middle of the spectrum, but it still had some comic bite, some life, some inspiration. "The Millers" is not just incredibly lazy but aggressively empty, a show with a premise that requires many of its central characters to be awful and no use for the cast's many talents. Skip it at all costs.


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