Trophy Wife Was the Best New Show of the Season. And Now It’s Gone.

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May 9 2014 12:30 PM

Trophy Wife Was the Best New Show of the Season. Now It’s Gone.

trophywife_3
How can you say no to that adorable face?

ABC

This week, the major networks announce their new fall schedules, a process of addition that requires subtraction: To make space for all of the shiny new shows, most of which will never sound better than they do right now, out go some of the old shows, which may, in fact, be barely old themselves. This purging process is not all bad: As of this week, officially and forever, Fox’s Dads and ABC’s Mixology are gone, surviving only as trivia questions, if that. (Q: What was the most racist show of the 2013-14 American television season?) It is not, however, all good news: to make way for a musical fairy tale and a procedural starring a 200-year-old, among other things, ABC has canceled Trophy Wife, the best new show of the past season. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was pick-up season.

From the start, Trophy Wife was burdened with a junky name and a bogus time slot. The sweet family comedy would have been a perfect fit after ABC’s hit Modern Family, a perch it never got. Instead, the Sarah Haskins comedy about a young woman who marries into a complex family—a man, his two ex-wives, and three children—had to go it alone and had the poor ratings to prove it. But from its very first episode, Trophy Wife was polished, assured, and funny in a way most sitcoms never are. It was a show that was as well conceived as it was well executed, an ensemble comedy that knew where the jokes really were. Malin Akerman starred as the new wife, Kate, but her relationship to the exes—played by Michaela Watkins and Marcia Gay Harden—was never catty or saccharine. The show understood how to create tension, without resorting to stereotypes. And each week was a showcase for someone else, the cast taking turns rising to the occasion: Akerman, Harden, and Watkins could all star in their own show, and so could the kids—Ryan Lee and his amazing Ellen impression and the adorable, delightful Albert Tsai are surely landing new series at this very moment. Somehow, instead, they were all starring in one show together.

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And yet as good as Trophy Wife is, I will admit that I am not entirely despondent about its cancellation. Maybe it’s because as a TV critic, I have watched this annual slaughter so often, my heart has been hardened: They take the good and they take the bad, it’s the facts of life. But I’m also not distressed because it has never, ever been a better time to be a canceled show that did not deserve to be canceled than it is right now. In the years to come, more people will likely watch Trophy Wife on some streaming service than ever watched it on ABC. All the people who never even knew Trophy Wife was airing, or when it was airing, or that they might like it, may now take their time finding it in this great age of the long TV afterlife—where it surely works in Trophy Wife’s favor that instead of being some overwhelming six-season-long commitment, it is just 22 delectable episodes.

Willa Paskin is Slate’s television critic.

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