‘One Big Happy’: Why Is Ellen DeGeneres’ Lesbian Sitcom Full of Obnoxious Stereotypes?

If nothing else, One Big Happy, produced by Ellen DeGeneres and created by Liz Feldman, believes that it’s forward-thinking and progressive. NBC’s newest sitcom centers on single lesbian Liz (Elisha Cuthbert, Happy Endings), who is trying to have a child with her straight best friend and roommate Luke (Nick Zano, still trying to find a solid comedy to latch on to). However, their plans implode when Luke meets and spontaneously marries a British stranger named Prudence (Kelly Brook), who quickly moves in and clashes with Liz — just as Liz finds out that she’s pregnant! It’s a Three’s Company situation without the humor, a queer-centric sitcom with backwards jokes (and sans queer characters; Liz’s ex appears in the second episode but the show “will not see another gay series regular character“), and a comedy that generally feels like it premiered two decades too late.

We find out Liz is a lesbian immediately — a “big-time!” lesbian, Luke exclaims — as she explicitly details everything to a pharmacist in the cold open. This exposition continues, unnecessarily, throughout the entire pilot. It’s one thing for a pilot to be expository in order to get the basics down, but it’s another to remind the viewers approximately every three minutes that Liz is, yep, still a lesbian. It’s even worse when this reminder is given through obnoxious stereotypes that would be offensive if they weren’t so eye-roll-inducing. Liz wore a top hat to prom! She named her cat Ellen! And so on.

It’s hard to see Ellen DeGeneres having such a hands-on role in One Big Happy considering it’s far less progressive that it believes it is — and much worse than Ellen’s 1994-98 sitcom Ellen, wherein both DeGeneres and her character came out. “The Puppy Episode” is a memorable, if not dated, episode of television; One Big Happy is an entirely forgettable comedy (luckily, there will only be six episodes in Season 1 and almost definitely no Season 2). It’s admirable that One Big Happy is trying to continue the trend of showcasing and normalizing “modern” families on television, particularly ones that include gay relationships, but any goodwill is squashed by terrible writing and hackneyed jokes. The show purports to be forward-thinking but, instead, is quite the opposite.

One Big Happy - Season PilotLiz isn’t the only underwritten women character on this show. Luke’s new wife Prudence is a bombshell, which we know because practically every joke revolves around her (often naked) body — “smuggling melons” is a phrase that’s actually uttered. Prudence’s only real characterization is that she’s a free spirit, and it becomes clear early on that this is only so the writers can cheaply explain why she walks around the shared apartment without clothes. Her early introduction to Liz occurs when Prudence is naked and begins hugging Liz, much to Liz’s dismay. When an uncomfortable Liz exclaims “Vagina! Right on my leg!” (yep, an actual line of dialogue that made it to the final draft), Prudence responds “I’m starting to think you’re not a very good lesbian.” Because, you see, all lesbians would be thrilled to have a woman they’ve never met forcefully hug them against their will. It’s funny because Liz doesn’t! What an uptight lesbian she is.

One Big Happy isn’t responsible for representing all queer characters or having any kind of social agenda, nor should it be, but for a sitcom whose two favorite words are “lesbian” and “vagina” (the latter of which is expected considering Feldman previously wrote for 2 Broke Girls), it certainly seems like it’s a sitcom with bigger aims up its sleeve. On paper, there is a lot of good that can be covered: reversing the straight woman/male gay best friend trope, exploring the loneliness of Liz starting to lose her best friend to his new love, examining the conflicts of two people who aren’t in a relationship choosing to raise a baby, looking at the strangeness of this three-parent family, etc. Unfortunately, One Big Happy has no real interest in any of this, instead choosing to continue NBC’s new trend of shoddy, humorless, and quickly-canceled sitcoms.