The producers of the new CBS comedy “Life in Pieces” work hard to sell the idea that the show is somehow doing something fresh by presenting the chronicles of the Short family in separate vignettes in each half-hour, using the tagline: “One big family, four short stories.” But this is essentially the way almost all family (and workplace) sitcoms work, and you don’t have to look very far to find a recent role model in perennial Emmy winner “Modern Family.” (The dramas “Parenthood” and “Brothers & Sisters” also come to mind.)
While the first episode of “Life in Pieces,” premiering Monday at 8:30 p.m. in the plum post-“Big Bang Theory” slot, doesn’t immediately inspire the same confidence as the ABC series does, what it does have in common with it is a big, ludicrously talented cast who elevate the pilot material in ways that a lesser ensemble couldn’t have managed.
The Short family is headed up by parents John (James Brolin) and Joan (Dianne Wiest), whose three children are in various stages of adult life.
Eldest Heather (Betsy Brandt, “Breaking Bad”) is a helicopter-ish mom of three who is feeling the pangs of a soon-to-be empty nest with shlubby hubby Tim (Dan Bakkedahl, “Veep”). Middle child Matt (Thomas Sadoski, “The Newsroom”) has a budding romance with Colleen (Angelique Cabral), but their style is cramped by the financial problems that find him still living at home with his parents and her with her ex-fiancé (a very funny Jordan Peele). And the youngest, Greg (Colin Hanks, “Fargo”), has just welcomed his first child with wife, Jen (Zoe Lister-Jones, “New Girl”).
Everyone in the cast is a pro, and they all have at least one moment in the pilot that offers hope of better things, but the beats and punch lines are fairly predictable stuff, from the screaming in a delivery room scene to the embarrassed eye rolls of Brandt and Bakkedahl’s college-visiting son as she hovers and he overshares.
Situationally, Hanks and Lister-Jones — dealing with new parent stuff, like the unfortunate physical occurrences during and after childbirth — and Sadoski and Cabral — dancing around awkward home situations — fare best in the first episode. Wiest and Brolin — she winsome and clipped, he shaggy and bumbling — aren’t given as much to do, although staging a fake funeral to hear your loved ones lionize you, as Brolin’s character does, comes off just as poorly as the idea sounds. Brandt and Bakkedahl have the toughest rows to hoe as they try to make long-married inertia feel funny instead of tragic.
The good news is there is palpable chemistry and affection among the actors, who all have impeccable comic timing. The bad news is there isn’t enough good material for them to time yet, which is often the shortcoming of a pilot trying to cram all that introduction into one episode.
LIFE IN PIECES
Starring: James Brolin, Dianne Wiest, Colin Hanks, Thomas Sadoski, Betsy Brandt, Dan Bakkedahl, Zoe Lister-Jones, Angelique Cabral.
On CBS, Monday, 8:30 p.m.Sarah Rodman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeRodman.